When syphilis (once known as ‘the pox’) was first recorded in Europe in 1495, it was said that “its pustules often covered the body from the head to the knees, caused flesh to fall from people’s faces, and led to death within a few months.” This language might sound overly dramatic and darkly medieval, but syphilis is still, to this day, a nasty and potentially fatal sexually transmitted bacterial infection best avoided. The infection is typically passed through sexual contact, but can also be passed on by intravenous drug use, blood transfusions, or from an infected mother to her unborn child (known as congenital syphilis). In the UK, syphilis is relatively uncommon. However, in recent years the numbers of cases diagnosed in men and women has increased (1,607% from 1997 to 2006). Treatment usually involves a two-week course of penicillin injections or, in some cases, antibiotic tablets or capsules. But preventative treatment is probably best. Yeah, you guessed it…wear a condom.
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