An infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Francis Ohuabunwa, talks about syphilis and treatment options with SIMON UTEBOR
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a highly contagious disease spread primarily through sexual activities, including oral and anal sex.
It is mostly transferred through sexual intercourse, kissing, blood transfusion and use of some sharp objects in the public places such as hospitals and some other unhygienic environment. It is transmitted through kissing because the germ, treponema pallidum, that causes syphilis, is present in everybody’s tongues.
How dangerous is the germ?
When the bacterial infection is transferred into the body, it grows through the blood. Syphilis can only be discovered through the blood with venereal disease research laboratory.
Is it true that syphilis can be caused by bodily contact?
Yes! One of the symptoms of syphilis is that one notices a kind of oyster or cancer at the tip of the penis. It causes fever and the wound is painless. It also causes fever and some discomfort such as runny stomach, noise in the stomach, etc.
Can it be transferred from a pregnant mother to a child?
It can be transferred from mother to child, especially during birth, when the woman is not delivered of the baby through caesarean section. It can affect the baby. When it does, the baby can have a bad eye and such a baby can go blind and can have some heart problems (dysfunction in the heart).
How does an infected person know?
He or she will know through a blood test because the symptoms of syphilis are misconstrued with genital warts, herpes genitalia simplex type 2 – they look alike but not the same thing. When a person is suffering from syphilis, that person can specifically know he is suffering from it when he conducts a VDRL.
What are the stages of syphilis?
There are primary and secondary stages. The secondary stage is called latent stage. At the secondary stage, there will be rashes on the body, especially on the chest of the infected person which will refuse to go despite all treatments. The person can be getting leaner, having night fever or constant fever. This also depends on one’s body chemistry. Some other persons may be having frequent stooling. This is what happens when it enters the secondary stage or latent stage. By that time, it will lie in the blood stream and be causing problems.
It can lead to death if not properly treated. And after that stage, it has become a difficult problem and serious illness to treat. The manifestations, which are the symptoms, can come with cough – acute and chronic – that will refuse to go, frequent stooling, watery stool and fever.
Some experts say that at that stage 3, some sufferers can go mad. Is that true?
Yes! Syphilis causes mental illness. All over the world, even in Nigeria, many people are mentally sick, but they do not know. When it becomes complicated at the latent stage, many manifestations arise; many depend on one’s body chemistry. People respond to sickness differently. All these symptoms may not be there for one to know that one has syphilis. Many people, due to their literacy and illiteracy level, do not know the difference between syphilis and herpes or genital warts.
How is syphilis diagnosed?
It is diagnosed through a blood test called VDRL. It is done with the blood sample collected from the infected persons.
How is it treated?
Syphilis is treated by professionals. It cannot be treated by roadside professionals or by any type of herbs they sell about. There is proper medication for syphilis which, of course, we do not mention.
If the doctor knows what to do, the doctor will place the person on the right medication. The treatment is always prolonged. There is a maxim that ‘protracted illness is cured by prolonged medication’. The treatment, when it comes to the latent stage, is by prolonged medication but with adequate medical treatment.
Let me tell you a brief history of syphilis. Syphilis was brought into Africa by men who sailed with Christopher Columbus in the late 60s. By that time, doctors were powerless. It was as HIV is today until there was drug that could cure it.
What happens if it is not treated?
Death! Before the person dies, the person must have suffered untold hardship ranging from erectile dysfunction, sex hormone deficiency, infertility (because it disturbs the sperm cell and important cells in the body), and eventually, madness or mental problem until death.
How can one prevent syphilis?
Syphilis is a very dangerous disease. Prevention is better than cure. One can only prevent it by avoiding sex with illicit sex workers, by avoiding illicit drugs that will make one visit the red light district girls or call girls, by abstaining from unnecessary and casual sex. Condom does not prevent syphilis.
But many people believe that once they use condom, problems associated with sexually transmitted diseases are over.
It is a practical something. If you wear condom, during sexual intercourse and during pressure, the condom will pull down and when the fluid from the lady touches the upper part of the man’s body, and those fluids dry up, the germ is very dangerous; it has gone into the body and starts developing. Syphilis will last between two weeks and one month before one can notice that one has syphilis before the physical manifestation.
Syphilis can be prevented by not patronising commercial sex workers I earlier said, to avoid casual sex. Also, people should do test at least once every three months.
It is believed that syphilis makes it easier to acquire and transmit HIV. Is this belief correct?
We have what is called miasm. Miasm is a chronic illness that has become part of the body. It has attracted multiple illnesses such as psora, sycosis and syphilis. Anybody that has these three conditions is already infected with HIV. When these three conditions are in place, the infected person is already a HIV candidate/patient. That is how it can be related to HIV because whenever there is a latent syphilis, it has translated to psora (rashes all over the body); sycosis is itching – illness normally starts with itching. When you start itching (psora) then you enter sycosis and syphilis (the mother of the illnesses) which equals HIV. These three conditions must be in place for the person to be termed or regarded as suffering from HIV.
There is a myth surrounding syphilis. One of such is that organs already damaged by it are irreversible? Is that true?
Yes! Syphilis is a deadly disease. It is a scourge. In the early 60s and 70s, it was killing people like HIV and there was no solution to it then. As I said earlier, it came into the West African coast from men that came with Columbus into Africa. Now, if any organ like the eye has been lost to syphilis infection, it is difficult to reverse blindness.
There is another myth that sex with virgins cure syphilis. Is that true?
No. If you have sex with a virgin, you have transmitted it to that virgin. Though it is curable, but it is hardly cured. In infectious disease clinic, we cure it as if we are the ones that caused it, but the physician has to be knowledgeable to cure syphilis.
Can syphilis be inherited?
It cannot be called inherited disease. However, I can say it is a case of yes and no. It can be transmitted from a mother to an unborn child. When the child is born with syphilis, the baby may be disfigured. It may be in a terrible condition; the baby may be born blind or with some abnormalities. Some will be okay physically but very soon, the person may start falling sick. It can be said that it can be acquired through the mother or father but I will not want to say it is in the gene of the parents.
When you say it is inherited, it means it is in the gene of the parents. But likewise, it can be said that yes, when a mother or father is suffering from syphilis, it can be transmitted to an unborn baby or the foetus acquiring it from the parents.