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SYPHILIS WHAT IS SYPHILIS AND HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED Syphilis is a curable infection caused by the corkscrew shaped bacteria spirochete Treponema pallidum The bacteria enter the body through mucous membranes or abraded skin and once inside syphilis enters the blood stream and attaches to cells damaging organs over time In 90 of cases the spirochete is transmitted by sexual contact Transmission by blood transfusion is possible but rare not only because blood products are screened for the disease but also because the spirochetes die within 24 hours in stored blood Other methods of transmission are highly unlikely because T pallidum is easily killed by heat and drying There is also a congenital form of syphilis where the disease is passed from the mother to the foetus There are four stages through which untreated syphilis progresses each stage with its own unique signs and symptoms primary secondary latent tertiary The wide range of symptoms makes syphilis easy to be mistaken with less serious diseases and ignore its early signs HOW COMMON IS IT There were 7 000 reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis in Australia in 2003 There are however believed to be many more unreported cases as many symptoms of the first stages go unnoticed Syphilis rates usually increase and decrease in seven-to-ten year cycles It has also been found that syphilis increases by 3 to 5 fold the risk of transmitting and acquiring HIV High risk groups Sexually active teenagers People infected with another sexually transmitted disease STD including AIDS Women of childbearing age Prostitutes of either sex and their customers Victims of rape and sexually abused children PRIMARY SYPHILIS The primary stage of syphilis is usually marked by the appearance of highly contagious ulcer known as a chancre within 10 to 90 days after contact with the bacteria at the site of infection The chancres are not painful and can last from one to six weeks or disappear
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