When a color is associated with the month of October, it is common to think of pink, due to the famous campaign to fight breast cancer. However, October is also another color month, green, as part of the syphilis awareness movement.
Since 2017, the third Saturday of October – in 2023, the 21st – marks the National Day against Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis, as established by Law No. 13430/2017.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Although the disease is curable, if it is not diagnosed quickly, it can become chronic and lead to death. Early diagnosis prevents more people from becoming infected and from getting the condition worse. In 2021, according to data from the Epidemiological Bulletin of Syphilis issued by the Ministry of Health, the number of detected cases of the disease broke a record, with 78.5 acquired infections per 100,000 population and 9.9 congenital cases per thousand live births.
Acquired and congenital syphilis
Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum and can be transmitted in two ways: through sexual contact without a condom with an infected person, when called acquired syphilis, or to a child during pregnancy or birth, called congenital syphilis.
The danger of syphilis is that it can be a silent infection. In some cases, it can take up to 40 years for symptoms to appear, because the disease has different stages.
Initially, a wound, called a hard chancre, forms where the bacteria entered — such as the penis, vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, or mouth — 10 to 90 days after infection. It can be accompanied by lumps in the groin, which disappear on their own and do not cause any discomfort, which may prompt the sufferer to ignore their appearance.
If ignored, the disease progresses to the secondary stage, in which symptoms appear between six weeks and six months after the initial wound appears and heals. The main event is the appearance of spots on the body, which generally do not itch, but can also show fever, malaise, headache and swelling of the body. As with the initial stage, the spots disappear without needing treatment.
Between one and 40 years after the onset of infection, if it is not recognized and treated, syphilis enters its third stage, when it begins to develop more serious symptoms, such as skin, bone, cardiovascular and neurological lesions. This stage, if left untreated, can lead to death.
“It is possible for a person to be infected with syphilis and not know it, because the disease can appear and disappear, but it remains latent in the body. “That is why it is important to protect yourself, get tested, and if an infection is detected, treat it properly,” says the Ministry of Health.
Testing and treatment
The most important measure to prevent syphilis is to use a condom during sex. However, testing is also important to prevent transmission. Rapid syphilis testing (RT) is available in the Unified Health System (SUS) and is described as “practical and easy to perform” by the Ministry of Health.
Testing is even more important in the case of pregnancy, as the disease can also be transmitted to the fetus, which is called vertical transmission. The Ministry of Health recommends that pregnant women undergo screening in the first and third trimesters, at childbirth, or in the event of a miscarriage.
If so, for pregnant women, treatment begins as soon as possible, with benzathine penicillin, or benzethacil, because this is the only way to avoid passing the infection to the baby. It should start at least 30 days before delivery.
Most babies with congenital syphilis have no symptoms at birth. However, clinical manifestations may appear in the first three months, during or after two years of a child’s life. Infants are treated with crystalline penicillin or procaine for 10 days.
Risks of congenital syphilis include miscarriage, premature birth, fetal abnormality, deafness, blindness, bone changes, mental disability, or death at birth.
For those with acquired syphilis, a second test, this time laboratory, is done if the RT result is positive, to confirm the diagnosis, when treatment is started.
source: Forum Magazine
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