How much do you know about syphilis prevention, screening, and treatment? Test yourself with these 5 true or false questions.
Syphilis, caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, is a common sexually transmitted disease with >100 000 new diagnoses in 2017.2 Symptoms of syphilis, or "The Great Pretender," often look like many other diseases making early detection difficult for both patient and physician. Primary care physicians are often the first to see patients with syphilis and therefore play a critical role in prevention, early screening, and treatment. Get back to basics by seeing if you can decipher which of the 5 statements about syphilis in the quiz below are true or false.
Question 1. True or false? In the last decade, rates of syphilis infection in the US have increased dramatically.
Answer: True. In recent years, rates of syphilis infection have increased dramatically. In 2015, reported rates of syphilis in the US were higher than they had been for 20 years. Between 2014 and 2015, rates of syphilis in the US increased in almost every region, in most age groups, and in almost every race/ethnicity.1
Answer: False. Primary syphilis occurs shortly after infection and is characterized by a firm, round, painless sore that lasts about 3-6 weeks. The sore heals spontaneously, but treatment is required. Patients who are not treated can progress to secondary syphilis, characterized by a skin rash and/or sores on the mucous membranes, along with systemic symptoms (eg, fever and fatigue). Untreated secondary syphilis can become latent.1
Answer: True. Genital sores from syphilis can increase the risk of acquiring HIV and make it easier to transmit. Studies suggest that having syphilis is associated with about 2-5 times increased risk for acquiring HIV. In the US, ~50% of men who have sex with men and have either primary or secondary syphilis also have HIV.2
Answer: False. Late stage, or tertiary, syphilis is rare but can develop in untreated syphilis up to 30 years after primary infection. While late stage syphilis is not transmittable, it can affect many organ systems and may cause death. For all other stages of syphilis (primary, secondary, and latent) the infection is transmissible.1
Answer: True. Congenital syphilis is increasing in the US, and may result in stillbirth in up to 40% of cases.2 Congenital syphilis can cause low birth weight and preterm delivery. Even though infected infants may be born without symptoms of syphilis, they require immediate treatment. Without treatment, congenital syphilis can cause cataracts, deafness, seizures, and death.1
1. Department of Health & Human Services. Syphilis. https://www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/fact-sheets/sexually-transmitted-diseases/syphilis/index.html. Updated March 29, 2019. Accessed September 16, 2019.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis-detailed.htm. Updated January 30, 2017. Accessed September 16, 2019.