Causative organisms of sexually transmitted diseases such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhoea) and Treponema pallidum (syphilis) are extremely sensitive to the effects of environmental factors such as UV light and desiccation. They are therefore unable to live outside of their human host, and rely for transmission on intimate human contact.
The spirochaete T. pallidum enters the body through minor abrasions, generally on the genitalia or mouth, where a characteristic lesion called a chancre develops. The disease may proceed no further than this, but if T. pallidum enters the bloodstream and passes around the body, the more serious secondary stage develops, lasting some weeks. Following a latent period of several years, around half of secondary syphilis cases go on to develop into the tertiary stage of the disease, whose symptoms may include mental retardation, paralysis and blindness. Congenital syphilis is caused by T. pallidum being passed from a mother to her unborn child.
The primary and secondary stages of syphilis are readily treated by penicillin; however, the tertiary stage is much less responsive to such therapy.
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