By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Syphilis is an infectious disease but it is preventable to a large extent. The best and the most certain method of prevention of this infection is to avoid sexual contact or only to maintain sexual contact with one faithful partner who has been tested and is not infected. Some of the tips to prevent transmission of syphilis include the safe sex measures.
Safer sex measures include:
Having sex with a single faithful, tested and non-infected partner. Sexual penetration or ejaculation does not need to take place for syphilis to spread.
Condoms can be used to reduce the risk of catching syphilis, but cannot prevent it altogether. Some risk remains via exposure to the mouth (those having oral sex) or via anus (those having anal intercourse). It is important to use a condom during vaginal, oral and anal sex.
Other forms of barriers like use of a dental dam (square of plastic) when having oral sex or when the mouth of an uninfected individual makes contact with partner's vagina or anus. This also prevents transmission of sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Sex toys that have been used by another individual (possibly infected) should not be shared. For people who wish to use them can wash them after each use and use a fresh condom over them.
Treatment of sexual partners
Transmission needs to be prevented by routine testing and, if positive, treatment of sexual partners of infected individuals.
The infected individuals are counselled regarding prevention of spread to their sexual partners. Individuals sexually exposed to a person with primary, secondary, or early latent syphilis within 90 days preceding the diagnosis should be assumed to be infected.
All sexual partners of the infected person in the recent past need to be identified, notified and rapidly referred for medical evaluation and treatment. Long-term sex partners of patients with late syphilis should be evaluated clinically and serologically and treated appropriately. All patients with syphilis should be tested for HIV. Patient and partner education is important.
Syphilis and injection drug users
Syphilis can also spread by sharing injection drug users. Injection drug users should avoid sharing needles. They can opt for needle-exchange programmes that are offered by many pharmacies and local authorities. In these used needles can be exchanged for new disposable clean ones.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)