Syphilis is caused by little corkscrew- like organisms called spirochetes which circulate in the blood stream andu burrow deep into the tissues of the body, where they may lie inactive for years. This disease kills hundreds, perhaps thyousands, of men and women each year, and also causes blindness, heart disease, insanity, and many other ailments. It appears in many forms and stages and can cause most painful surrering. Also, it can be passed on to an unborn child through a mother who has not been adequately treated.
Fortunately, as soon as it is discovered the disease can be treated quite easily with large doses of pencillin or other antibiotics. Check-ups including regular blood tests, are essential for some time after treatment to make sure that the disease has been completely eradica- ted. This is not to say that syphilis is no longer a grave problem. It is. For one thing. a person cannot easily recognize syphilis in its early stages because its first symptoms are usually slight or similar to those of several other diseases. The most common symptom is a hard, painless, moist sore called a chancre. It usually appears, from ten days to three months after exposure, at the place where the spirochetes entered the body, in the man usually on the penis and in the woman deep within the vagina, where is cannot be seen.
After a short time, from a few days to a month, the chancre disappears without treatment, but this does not mean the syphilis has disappeared. It has merely gone 'underground'. Later it may cause other symptoms: a non-itching rash most often on the plams or soles, or hair falling out in patches, plus a sore throat, low fever, and aching, somewhat like the symptoms of the f'lu'. But these symptoms also disppear, and then the spirochetes spread undected throughout the body, where, over the years, they may damage the organs and cause serious diseases and, not infrequently, death. Many people die of syphilis damage without ever knowing the real cause of their sickness. Most cases of syphilis and gonorrhoea are transmitted by sexual intercourse.
However, it is possible, in rare cases, for a young girl to get gonorrhoea from a warm, moist towel just used by someont who has it, and syphilis can be spread by 'deep kissing' a person who has a chancre or syphilitic mucous patches in his or her mouth. Both diseases can be passed during heavy petting with an infected person. In very rare cases, doctors have been infected with syphilis through a scratch or cut while they were handling a syphilitic baby.
If your remember that venereal disease germs can stay alive only for a few minutes unless they remain moist and at body temperature, you will see how nearly impossible it is to catch VD from such things as a toilet seat or door knob. Almost always, it is contracted from close sexual contact with a person who has it.
If a couple have been examined by a doctor to make sure that neither one is infected (and this necessitates a blood test for syphilis and a culture for gonorrhoea) and if thereafter they have sex only with each other, they need not worry about VD. The people most likely to get VD are those who are sexually promiscuous - that is, who are sexually active with a variety of partners. If someone you do not know well is willing to have sex with you, quite likely that person has had sex with other people, too. and your chances of getting VD are pretty high. You should remember that it is almost impossible to tell by a person's appearance whether he or she has VD, and if the person is selfish or not caring, he or she may not tell you about an infection.
One encouragaing thing about VD is that it is quite easily trea- ted and cured. Therefore, if you have any reason to believe you have been exposed to VD infec- tion, you should go at once to a public health clinic or to your own doctor for tests. You need not feel embarrassed, for such tests and any needed treatment are kept confidential. If you have venereal disease, it is important, too, that the person with whom you have had sexual contact also be tested and treated. In all towns of any size there will be a VD. At a special clinic you don't need a referral note from your own doctor in order to attend. Neither do you need an appointment, except in a few of the larger or teaching hospitals.
Treatment which is on an outpatient basis is free and condidential. And you don't be wasting the doctor's time even if you are found to be free from infection. It's better to be a safe than sorry. You may be asked to bring your partner along to the clinic for a check-up as well. If a person is reluctant to warn his or her partner for any reason, perhaps because it was a casual relationship only, a social worker may undertake to do this. 'Contract tracing' as it is known, plays an important part in checking the spread of VD.
There are several other diseases and discomforts from which women having sexual intercourse sometimes suffer. There are so-called yeast infections, and other vaginal infections, which cause itching and burning. There are also urinary infections, which arise because the woman's opening for urine is right next to the vagina and therefore subject to infection. These may cause painful urination or kidney pain (backache).
Both men and women may be afflicted with crabs a kind of lice which get into the public hair and cause itching. If your think you may be infected with any of these diseases, or have any unusual symptoms in your genital area, see a doctor or go to a clinic at once for testing and any needed treatment.