The presentation of tertiary syphilis typically reflects three major pathophysiologic mechanisms comprising the CNS and cardiovascular involvements, and gummata.
Neurologic manifestations of tertiary syphilis may just be limited to abnormal CSF changes with no neurologic signs or symptoms. In other cases, it presents most commonly with demetia (general paralysis of the insane), tabes dorsalis, and meningovascular disease. Tabes dorsalis presents with ataxia, foot slap, wide-step gait, loss of balance, and dysaesthesias comprising of loss of senations of pain and temperature. Cerebrovascular accidents are long term effects of syphilitic CNS involvement. The typical symptoms of meningitis include: headache, neck stiffness, and focal neurologic deficits which occur in syphilitic meningitis.
Gummata are inflammatory plaques of fibrous tissue which may affect any organ, but are most commonly seen in the skin and bones. These nodules cause pressure symptoms. Gummata typically present with severe bone pain.
Screening tests for syphilis includes the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) and rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test. If these tests are positive , a further confirmatory test is recommended. The confirmatory tests for syphilis include fluorescent treponemal antibody-absorption (FTA-ABS) and microhemagluttination assay T pallidum (MTA-TP). Cerebrospial fluid analysis may be necessary in cases of meningeal involvement.
Antibiotic therapy with penicillin is the mainstay of treatment of all stages of syphilis. Ocular and neurosyphilis is treated with acqueous penicillin, 3 to 4 million units given intravenously every 4 hours, or procaine penicillin G, 2.4 million units IM once a day plus 500mg probenecid given orally, both drugs are administered for 10-14 days, subsequently with benzathine penicillin 2.4 million units IM once every week for three weeks. In cases of penicillin hypersensitivity or allergy, a cephalosporin is considered; ceftriaxone IM or IV 2g once a day for 14 days.
Asymptomatic neurosyphilis is treated also to prevent neurologic sequalae. Oral or intramuscular antipsychotics may be necessary to manage the paresis. Analgesics are indicated for tabes dorsalis and paresthesias. Neuropathic pains may respond to carbamazepine.
Most cases of tertiary syphilis are treatable, especially in the face of prompt diagnosis and treatment. If diagnosis and treatment are delayed, organ damage and complications of tertiary syphilis may be irreversible.
Poor prognostic factors also include the severity of the disease and the presence of comorbid diseases including opportunistic infections, and sexually transmitted diseases. Mortality may result from respiratory, liver, neurologic, or cardiovascular complications.
Syphilis is caused by the spirochete, treponema pallidum. T pallidum is a motile bacterium which, although described as coiled or spiral, has been shown to posses a flat-wave structure by high-resolution time-lapse microscopy .
T pallidum is exclusively a human pathogen with no other known host. Furthermore, in-vitro culture of T pallidum is not possible.
T pallidum gains entry into the body via unprotected sexual intercourse, via breaks or sites of abrasions in the genitals and mucous membranes . Therefore, oral sex is another route of transmission of the infection . Other routes of transmission of syphilis is blood transfusion and vertical (mother-to-fetal) transmission via the placenta.
Approximately 12 million new cases of syphilis were recorded in 1999. Over 90% of those cases occurred in developing countries . Syphilis is estimated to occur in 700,000 to 2.6 million pregnancies yearly. The complications of syphilis in pregnancy include spontaneous abortions, intrauterine fetal demise, and congemital syphilis . In sub Saharan Africa, syphiis accounts for approximately 20% of perinatal deaths . However, death rates have reduced from 202,000 in 1990 to 113,000 in 2010 .
In the united states, by 2007, the incidence rate of syphilis was six times higher in men than women. This was opposed to the equal incidence rates recorded in 1997. Syphilis was observed to be most common among African Americans in the US in 2010. Furthermore, the incidence rate of syphilis in the US has been increasing steadily every year .
Tertiary syphilis usually presents after at least 3 years of the primary infection. Tertiary syphilis occurs in 30-40% of all infected persons. At this phase, T pallidum multiplies and spreads throughout the organs of the body but the patient is not contagious anymore. The national Institute of Health (NIH) through its Office of Rare Diseases (ORD) has tagged tertiary syphilis as a "rare disease". This means that it occurs in less than 200,000 of US population.
After the secondary stage of the infection, serological studies reveal negative nontreponemal antibody test results in 25% of patients. These findings are as a result of spontaneous remission of the infection. However, in another 45% of the patients, antibody tests remain positive, but the patient presents with no further symptoms or signs. Tertiary syphilis occurs in the remaining cases. It usually occurs in untreated cases of syphilis. Typically tertiary syphilis occurs after 5 - 20 years of the primary infection.
In tertiary syphilis, T pallidum invades and replicates in various organs in the body, particularly the central nervous system. CNS involvement could manifest as meningovascular syphilis which involves pathologic changes in the meningeal vessels. Meningovascular syphilis may present with focal neurologic deficits and CSF findings of increased cellularity and high protein levels. Syphilitic meningitis is another common CNS manifestation of the infection. The endarteritis caused by syphilis may also predispose to acute stroke syndromes.
Cardiovascular involvement is typically manifested as an aneurysm of the ascending and transverse parts of the aortic arch. This results from the typical syphilitic gummatous changes in the tunics media of the aorta. Consequent to the aneurysm, aortic valve incompetence, aortic rupture, and pressure necrosis of adjacent structures may occur.
An isolated gumma is a typical granulomatous reaction to T pallidum and is commonly observed in the skin and bones, however, it may occur in any organ. Gummas produce pressure symptoms.
Often, microscopic examination of samples of the affected organs in tertiary syphilis reveals a small amount of the spirochetes. Characteristically, tertiary syphilis is not contagious.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by treponema pallidum, a spirochete. T pallidum is found exclusively in humans and is transmitted via sexual intercourse, vertical transmission from mother to fetus, and blood transfusion. However, it may rarely result from contact of a break in skin with the lesion. The main etiological classifications of syphilis are congenital and acquired syphilis.
Congenital syphilis may be classified as early or late based on the onset of presentation. Early congenital syphilis becomes symptomatic within the first 2 years of life, while late syphilis presents after the age of 2 years.
Syphilis acquired through sexual intercourse, if untreated, progresses through four stages with characteristic symptoms and progressive disease severity. The stages of syphilis include: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary stages. Generally, syphilis may be indistinguishable from other sexually transmitted diseases by its symptomatology alone .
Primary syphilis manifests as a local infection of the genitals presenting with a macule which progresses into a painless ulcer and a chancre after 14-21 days of exposure. However, the incubation period could be as long as 90 days.
Secondary syphilis develops after 4 - 8 weeks of onset of primary infection and is often asymptomatic. Secondary syphilis is a laboratory diagnosis made with positive serological findings after less than 1 year ( CDC criteria) or less than 2 years (WHO criteria) after the primary infection  . Latent syphilis is somewhat similar to secondary syphilis diagnosed as an asymptomatic infection acquired more than a year (CDC criteria) or more than two years (WHO criteria) after the primary infection .
Tertiary syphilis is the end-stage of the disease and manifests after several years of the primary infection presenting with neurosyphilis, cardiovascular pathologic changes, and gummata which may appear in any organ of the body.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacterium called treponema pallidum. There are four stages of syphilis; primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary, and these stages represent the different levels of progression of the disease. The secondary stage usually occurs between one to two months after the primary stage, while the tertiary stage occurs many years after the primary one and is characterized by spread of the infection to vital organs of the body including the brain, eyes, and heart.
Syphilis is caused by a bacterial agent called treponema pallidum and the infection can be contracted via unprotected genital sex and oral sex. It could also be transmitted via blood transfusion and from a pregnant woman to her unborn child through the placenta.
The key features of tertiary syphilis are the involvement of the brain, eye, heart, and skin. At this stage of the infection, the bacteria enter into the brain damaging the lining of the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges, and the blood vessels in the brain. The bacteria may also cause damage to the nervous network in the spinal cord.
In the heart, the bacterium damages the lining of the aorta which is the great blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to all parts of the body. There are some large nodules called gummata (singular: gumma) which are products of inflammation caused by syphilis. The gummata are characteristically seen in the skin and bones at this stage of the infection.
Syphilis is most commonly seen among those with other sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, homosexual men, and those who abuse intravenous drugs.
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are the factors which make for a cure of this infection. If diagnosis or treatment is delayed, complications of this infection may be irreversible.
Death often results from damages for the brain, liver, lungs, and the heart.
The effect of this infection on the brain may result in loss of balance, inability to coordinate one's movement, numbness of the skin, inability to feel hot or cold, disorientation, confusion, and impaired concentration.
The gummata appear as large lumps in the skin, bones, and in a few cases may affect other organs of the body. These lumps press on adjacent organs or structures causing compressive symptoms.
The initial step in investigating syphilis is to screen for its presence. A common screening test is called Veneral disease research Laboratory (VDRL). If the screening is positive, further tests are done to confirm the infection.
In cases where syphilis causes meningitis, which is the inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, a procedure called lumbar puncture may be necessary. This procedure involves collecting fluid which is present within the lining of the brain and spinal cord and analyzing it for typical findings of the infection.
Safe sex is the key preventive measure against syphilis. Furthermore, pregnant women should be screened for syphilis to prevent complications in the baby.