WIESBADEN, Germany (dpa) – Syphilis, often viewed as a disease of the past, has been on the rise in recent years in a number of countries including Germany, where doctors are now appealing to people to heed the first signs.
In 2013 the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute, the institution responsible for disease control and prevention in Germany, registered more than 5,000 cases of syphilis, a bacterial infection usually spread by unprotected sexual contact.
Syphilis is easily treatable when detected early.
Between nine and 90 days after the initial infection, a painless sore forms at the entry point of the bacterium (Treponema pallidum), typically the genitals, rectum or mouth, but heals by itself within two weeks, according to the German Society of Internal Medicine (DGIM) in Wiesbaden.
About seven to eight weeks later, the bacteria have spread throughout the body and cause a rash, frequently on the torso, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. About 30 per cent of the cases of secondary syphilis also heal untreated, the DGIM says.
The disease then moves into a latent stage, without symptoms, that can last for years and even decades. For some infected persons the disease then progresses to its tertiary stage, causing sores, skin blotches and non-cancerous tumours and possibly damaging blood vessels, heart valves and the brain.