LIFESTYLE
20/10/2015 09:14 BST | Updated 22/10/2015 09:59 BST

GRAPHIC IMAGES: Malignant Syphilis Photos Powerfully Demonstrate The Impact It Has On The Body

Syphilis may be an infection we associate with Victorian times, but it's still very much prevalent in the 21st century.

Graphic images have been released by the Lancet Journal to show the serious effects some strains of syphilis can have on the human body.

A 38-year-old man was treated in hospital back in April after multiple skin ulcers cropped up across his body including his face, torso, arms and legs.

To begin with, the ulcers were painless lumps across his body, but within two weeks they had begun to ooze pus and were very painful.

Initially the man was diagnosed with pyoderma gangrenosum (a rare skin condition that causes painful ulcers) and treated at his local hospital. However the ulcers across his body soon worsened and the patient developed a fever.

Eventually, doctors diagnosed the patient with malignant syphilis - a rare sexually transmitted disease.

syphilis ulcers

The man's body was covered in painful ulcers

Syphilis comes in three stages. Stage one begins as a painless yet highly infectious sore on the genitals, or sometimes around the mouth.

"If somebody else comes into close contact with the sore, typically during sexual contact, they can also become infected. The sore lasts two to six weeks before disappearing," reads the NHS Choices Website.

The disease then progresses to stage two where a skin rash and sore throat develops.

"These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks, after which you experience a hidden phase with no symptoms, which can last for years. After this, syphilis can progress to its third, most dangerous stage."

Roughly one-third of people who are not treated for syphilis will develop stage three (or tertiary) syphilis, which can cause serious damage to the body.

Syphilis, if diagnosed early, can usually be treated with antibiotics.

However, if it is not treated, syphilis can progress to a more dangerous form of the disease and cause serious conditions such as stroke, paralysis, blindness, and even death.

According to Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, malignant syphilis is a rare form of destructive secondary syphilis.

"Primary syphilis is actually on the rise in the UK and we are seeing more and more cases in our GUM clinics and in General Practice," she adds.

"Primary syphilis can go unnoticed but if left untreated the infection can take hold and it can develop into secondary syphilis which causes very nasty symptoms, such as in this case. Untreated syphilis can also be a problem much later in life as it can develop into tertiary syphilis which causes nerve and brain damage."

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Dr Webberley adds that attitudes towards safe sex nowadays are "extremely lax" and "many people have multiple partners without taking the necessary basic precautions". This includes wearing a condom for oral sex as well as vaginal and anal sex.

"Risk-taking behaviour also tends to worsen in holiday situations and we often see a spike in those attending clinic with symptoms after key holiday periods," she explains.

"So the key message is take precautions. Secondly, if you have exposed yourself to risk, get tested either in a sexual health clinic, at your surgery and even through your online pharmacy which is a great option if anonymity is a factor - though, if you do test positive, treatment should be sought in clinic.

"Be safe and get tested - most STIs are asymptomatic in the early stages so you don't know who has got one."

The man, who claimed he had sex with four women over the past year, was treated for malignant syphilis with weekly penicillin injections for three weeks, according to the Lancet Journal.

After six months, the ulcers had healed however the man's body was left covered in scars - a poignant reminder of why contraception is so important.

syphilis scars

The ulcers cleared, but left behind scars across the man's body

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