Depression-era U.S. poster advocating early syphilis treatment
Syphilis (historically called lues) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by a spirochaete bacterium, Treponema pallidum. Syphilis has many alternate names, such as: Miss Siff, the Pox, and has been given many national attributions, e.g. the French disease or the English disease.
The route of transmission for syphilis is almost invariably by sexual contact; however, there are examples of direct contact infections (see yaws) and of congenital syphilis (transmission from mother to child in utero).
The signs and symptoms of syphilis are myriad; before the advent of serological testing, diagnosis was more difficult and the disease was dubbed the "Great-Imitator" because it was so often confused with other diseases.
In the United States, about 36,000 cases of syphilis are reported each year, and the actual number is presumed to be higher. About three-fifths of the reported cases occur in men.
Syphilis can be treated with penicillin or other antibiotics. Statistically, treatment with a course of pills is dramatically less effective than other treatments, because patients tend not to complete the course. The oldest, and still most effective, method is to inject procaine and penicillin into each buttock (the procaine is added to make the pain bearable); the dose must be given half in each buttock because the amount given would be painful if given in a single injection. An alternative treatment is to administer several capsules of azithromycin orally (which has a long duration of action) under observation. This latter course, however, may be falling on hard times, as strains of syphilis resistant to azithromycin have developed and may account for 10% of cases in some areas in 2004. Other treatments are less effective as the patient is required to take pills several times a day.
If not treated, syphilis can cause serious effects such as damage to the nervous system, heart, or brain. Untreated syphilis can be ultimately fatal.
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