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Many people do not know the difference between syphilis and genital herpes. However, although syphilis can sometimes be confused with other diseases, herpes is readily identifiable. Dr. Jennifer Klein and colleagues wrote in a study that
“Syphilis is caused by infection with the spirochetal bacterium Treponema pallidum (T pallidum). It is generally considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI).” (See The Journal for Nurse Practioners, from January 20150 (1) In other words, syphilis is caused by a bacteria. In contrast, genital herpes is caused by a virus. “Genital herpes is an STD caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.” (See the CDC, last reviewed on January 23, 2014) (2) Additionally, although both diseases can cause sores, a syphilis sore is not painful, whereas herpes sores can be very painful. “The initial manifestation (of syphilis) is a painless ulcer known as a chancre at the site of sexual contact.” (See Medicinenet.com, last reviewed October 24, 2013) (3) In stark contrast to the painless sore caused by syphilis, the genital herpes virus causes sores which, “usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal.” (2) Finally, in the Western world, it is much more likely that an individual will be infected with the genital herpes virus than with syphilis.
It is important to realize that although syphilis rates are declining in the United States, they remain constant, or are actually rising in certain populations. Study authors wrote that “although syphilis is generally considered to be largely eradicated in the United States, incidence of the disease remains quite high in certain populations … syphilis has many nonspecific signs and symptoms that may be overlooked by the uninitiated nurse practitioner (NP), or may simply be indistinguishable from other more common diseases. Regrettably, undiagnosed and untreated syphilis may lead to life-threatening complications such as hepatitis, stroke, and nervous system damage … gay men, bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are at highest risk for syphilis infection. Other significant risk factors include concomitant HIV infection or other STI, use of illicit drugs during sex, poverty, and trading sex for drugs or money.” (1)
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