Syphilis is a disease that most people do not like to talk about, but it has been a major health problem for centuries, and we need to be cognizant of it. It defied effective treatment until the late 1940s when the antibiotic penicillin became available to the general public.
Syphilis is a dangerous sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by a thin, tightly coiled, spiral-shaped bacterium. It is a complex disease that if left untreated progresses through several distinct stages of effects and symptoms over a period of years. After the initial infection, the syphilis organism can lie dormant in the body for decades before coming active again.
The origin of syphilis is still a debatable subject. The best and most recent studies indicate that it was introduced into Europe from the New World by the men who sailed with Columbus. Another hypothesis is that it existed in Europe and Asia before the 15th century, but became widespread as urban living became more common.
It was a devastating disease, but today early syphilis can often be cured with prompt treatment. Without treatment about 15-30% of infected people will develop complications known as tertiary syphilis. This can eventually lead to damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.
With unprotected sex becoming more prevalent in our society, the frequency of syphilis as well as other STDs are on the increase. With increasing numbers of syphilis cases comes another very serious problem. Infected mothers are passing it on to their babies during pregnancy or labor. Eight out of 10 pregnant women who leave the bacterial infection untreated pass it on to their babies with often fatal consequences. The disease can lead to stillbirth or infected babies who survive can develop health problems such as deformed bones, severe anemia, and meningitis.
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