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Syphilis and Men Who Have Sex With Men

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Syphilis Symptoms continued...

Secondary Stage

The secondary stage of syphilis is characterized by a skin rash and mucous membrane sores. This stage typically starts with the development of a rash on one or more areas of the body -- the rash usually does not cause itching. Rashes associated with secondary syphilis can appear as the initial sore is healing or several weeks after it has healed. The characteristic rash of secondary syphilis may appear as rough, red, or reddish-brown spots both on the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet. However, rashes with a different appearance may occur on other parts of the body, sometimes resembling rashes caused by other diseases. Sometimes rashes associated with secondary syphilis are so faint that they are not noticed. In addition to rashes, symptoms of secondary syphilis may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. The signs and symptoms of secondary syphilis will resolve with or without treatment, but without treatment, the infection may progress to the latent and late stages of disease. 

Late Stage

The latent (hidden) stage of syphilis begins when secondary symptoms disappear. Without treatment, the infection remains in the body. In the late stages of syphilis, the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints may subsequently be damaged. This internal damage may show up many years later. Signs and symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. This damage may be serious enough to cause death.

Syphilis Diagnosis

A blood test is the best way to determine whether someone has syphilis. Shortly after infection occurs, the body produces antibodies against syphilis that can be detected by an accurate, safe, and inexpensive blood test. A low level of antibodies will remain in the blood for months or years, even after the disease has been successfully treated.

Syphilis and HIV

The genital sores (ulcers) caused by syphilis make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection sexually. 

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that cause sores, such as syphilis, disrupt barriers that provide protection against infections. The genital ulcers caused by syphilis can bleed easily, and when they come into contact with oral and rectal mucous membranes during sex, they increase the infectiousness of, and susceptibility to, HIV. Having other STDs is also an important predictor for becoming HIV-infected, because STDs are a marker for behaviors associated with HIV transmission.

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