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Example Case Study on Syphilis

Case Study on Syphilis

In the last thirty years, the term sexually transmitted disease (STD) has become more and more prevalent in everyday conversation. Many resources describe what has happened with STDs an epidemic in our society. It is estimated that over 12 million cases of infections occur every year (Little, 2000). There are many reasons to attribute to this increase in STDs, but it is mainly due to the rise in both sexual partners and unprotected sex. “Of all age groups, people from 15 to 24 years old make up the largest segment infected with STDs” (Little, 2000).

In the 1960’s, the only prevalent sexually transmitted diseases were syphilis and gonorrhea. Today, over forty years later, more than twenty different diseases infect people every year. These statistics show a significant rise in visibility and diversity (1994).

Syphilis, one of the earliest known STDs, happens to be one of the easiest to treat. While easy to treat, syphilis happens to be one of the most common STDs that infects individuals today. Prior to the development of Penicillin, it has been reported that 73 out of every 100,000 individuals were infected with syphilis. Syphilis is also known as treponema pallidum. Syphilis is often times characterized as the “great imitator”. The nickname is derived from the fact that syphilis carries many symptoms of other diseases making it difficult to diagnose (2001). A small germ called a spirochete, which classify as bacteria, causes syphilis. Syphilis has a long incubation period which means that it takes a long time to grow in the body and show symptoms (Woods, 1997).

Syphilis is spread from individual to individual through direct contact with a syphilis sore. The most common areas of syphilis sores are the external genitals, vagina, and anus. The disease can also be spread by sores that appear on the lips and mouth (2001). The most common way to attract syphilis from another individual is by sexual intercourse or direct sexual contact with someone who has an active infection. In addition, a pregnant mother may spread syphilis to her unborn child. As the child passes through the birth canal, it can be infected with the disease. Transmission of syphilis in this way can lead to serious mental and physical problems in the child.

If someone contracts syphilis and it goes untreated, the disease will pass through three different stages: Primary, secondary, and latent. In some cases, the late stage occurs which is accompanied by severe complications (Little, 2000). Primary Syphilis is detected by the appearance of chancre (painless bump). The chancre usually occurs about three weeks after exposure to another infected sore. The chancres are usually found on the genitals, lips, tongue, and various other places. Many times, theses chancres go unnoticed in women because they can grow internally. During this stage, lymph nodes around the site of the chancre can become swollen (Little, 2000).

The stage following the primary stage is the Secondary Stage. While the chancres may disappear, if the disease is not treated, it will progress into the secondary stage. The secondary stage usually occurs anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks after the chancre has disappeared. Secondary stage is distinguished by the appearance of a skin rash. It can spread over the entire body or be localized to specific areas. The rashes, as well as the chancres, are contagious. If another individual touches the rash, he or she may become infected. Often, areas of the body that tend to stay warm and moist, due to heat, the rash can progress into large masses of pink or gray lesions called condyloma lata. Other symptoms are presented with the secondary stage. Some of them include fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, weight loss, and nausea. This stage of syphilis can last for up to two years (Little, 2000).

The stage following the secondary stage is classified as the latent stage. The definition of latent is hidden. Some individuals who are in latent stage show symptoms common in secondary stage. If visual signs are still noticeable, the disease is still contagious. Once the symptoms have disappeared, however, the disease is no longer contagious. For most individuals, the latent stage is where the disease ends. While some may stay in the latent stage for the remainder of their lives, the disease will no longer progress. In other individuals, however, the latent stage progresses into an extremely dangerous final stage (Woods, 1997).

The final stage of syphilis that occurs in only about one third of the individuals diagnosed is extremely dangerous. If the disease progresses the spirochetes essentially damage all of the tissue of the organs. This deterioration can lead to spinal cord damage, bone degeneration, severe numbness, blindness, insanity, and possibly even death. While the symptoms of this stage are extreme, most of the individuals infected with this stage of syphilis are not contagious (Little, 2000).

With the frequent occurrence of both this disease and many other STDs, it is important if you show any of the symptoms to get tested. There are two types of tests to detect syphilis. Both the Venereal Disease research laboratory test and the rapid plasma reagin test are the most common used to detect syphilis. Both of these tests detect whether the body is producing antibodies in response to the introduction to the disease. These tests tend to be most accurate during the secondary stage of the disease (Little, 2000).
As noted earlier, syphilis is one of the easiest diseases to treat. Syphilis, at all stages, can be cured with injections of penicillin or other antibiotics. While these antibiotics will cure the disease, the antibiotics can not help the effects of late syphilis. Individuals who have the injection of antibiotics will no longer be contagious 24 hours after the first injection (Woods, 1997).

While you can protect yourself with condoms against many STDs, syphilis may be contracted even with the use of a condom. Because the chancres occur in areas not covered solely by the condom, transmission is relatively easy. Resources suggest that the only way to prevent infection is to postpone sexual activity until marriage (1998).

Because the majority of STDs affect mainly individuals between the ages of 15 to 24, it is important to stress the need for both education and prevention. Unlike syphilis, many other STDs carry much more devastating symptoms and have the potential to never go away. It is important to educate yourself on both the disease and the reasons for the disease.

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