Syphilis - P&S?
"The number and rate of P&S syphilis cases reported in 1998 in
the United States are record lows," according to a bulletin from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
What is meant by "P&S syphilis"?
Syphilis is one of the more venerable sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs). It is caused by
Treponema pallidum, a microscopic organism called a spirochete. This
worm-like, spiral-shaped organism infects people by burrowing into
the moist mucous membranes of the mouth or genitals.
The Three Stages of Syphilis
- The first (primary) stage: This involves the
formation of the chancre. At
this stage, syphilis is highly contagious. The primary stage can last one to
five weeks. The disease can be transmitted from any contact with one of the
ulcers, which are teeming with spirochetes. If the ulcer is outside of the vagina or on
the scrotum, the use of condoms may
not help in preventing transmission. Likewise, if the ulcer is in the mouth,
merely kissing the infected individual can spread syphilis. Even without
treatment, the early infection resolves on its own in most women.
- The second (secondary) stage: However, 25
percent of cases will proceed to the secondary stage of syphilis,
which lasts four to six weeks. This phase can include hair loss; a
sore throat; white patches in the
nose, mouth, and vagina; fever; headaches; and a skin rash. There can be lesions on the genitals that
genital warts, but are caused by
spirochetes rather than the wart virus. These wart-like lesions, as well as
the skin rash, are highly contagious. The rash can occur on the palms of the
hands, and the infection can be transmitted by casual contact.
- The third (tertiary) stage: This final
stage of the disease involves the brain and heart, and is usually no
longer contagious. At this point, however, the infection can cause
extensive damage to the internal organs and the brain, and can lead
Diagnosis and Treatment
The diagnosis of syphilis is usually made today by a blood
test, either the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) or Venereal Disease
Research Laboratory (VDRL) test. The treatment is with antibiotics.
The Name "Syphilis"
The name "syphilis" was coined by Hieronymus Fracastorius
(Girolamo Fracastoro). Fracastorius was a true Renaissance man; he wrote on the
temperature of wines, the rise of the Nile, poetry, the mind, and the soul; he
was an astronomer, geographer, botanist, mathematician, philosopher and, last
but not least in the present context, a physician. In 1530 he published the poem "Syphilis sive
morbus gallicus" (Syphilis or the French Disease) in which the name
of the disease first appeared. Perhaps more importantly, Fracastorius
went on in 1546 to write "On Contagion" ("De contagione et
contagiosis morbis et curatione"), the first known discussion of the
phenomenon of contagious infection: a landmark in
the history of infectious disease.
Returning to "P&S syphilis", what does it mean? It stands for
primary and secondary syphilis.
Last Editorial Review: 10/10/1999 8:29:00 PM
- Primary and Secondary Syphilis -- United States, 1998.
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1999;48:873-878. (Opening quote about
the decline of P&S syphilis.)
- MedicineNet.com's Medical Dictionary entry to
"Syphilis." (The cause, stages, diagnosis, treatment and history of syphilis.)