Wellness Sexual Health STI Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis By Tahirah Chichester, MPH Tahirah Chichester, MPH Tahirah is a public health professional with more than 10 years experience supporting people along various stages of their health journey. She has a Master of Public Health in epidemiology and biostatistics from Temple University. health's editorial guidelines Published on April 17, 2023 Medically reviewed by Susan Bard, MD Medically reviewed by Susan Bard, MD Susan Bard, MD, is a board-certified general and procedural dermatologist with the American Board of Dermatology and a Fellow of the American College of Mohs Surgery. learn more Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on Pinterest Email this page In This Article View All In This Article Common Symptoms Primary Stage Secondary Stage Latent Stage Tertiary Stage When to See a Healthcare Provider Fotostorm / Getty Images Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria, Treponema pallidum. You can get the infection from skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, and oral sex with a person with syphilis. When syphilis is left untreated, the infection can progress through a series of stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each stage of infection causes different symptoms of syphilis. As the bacteria spread throughout your body, the infection can affect several organs—that's why knowing the symptoms and receiving treatment early are so important. Common Symptoms Syphilis symptoms develop in stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Your symptoms tend to worsen at each stage, progressively affecting different parts of the body as the infection spreads. At any stage, however, syphilis can spread to the: Brain and nervous system (neurosyphilis)Eyes (ocular syphilis)Ears (otosyphilis) Primary Stage Symptoms Generally, symptoms of primary syphilis show up about 10 to 90 days after having sex with someone with a syphilis infection. During this time, you may notice swollen lymph nodes and one or more sores on your: PenisVaginaAnus or rectumLips or inside the mouth Sores can form at the site of infection, where the first bacteria entered the body. This sore is called a chancre. Chancre sores are usually (but not always) firm and round. They are also painless, so it may be difficult for you to notice at first. It's important to note that syphilis is very contagious at the primary stage. If you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex during this time, you can easily transmit the infection to your sexual partners. Keep in mind: chancre sores heal and go away after three to six weeks, regardless of whether you have received treatment. It's important to still receive treatment for syphilis, even after the chancre sores go away. If you don’t receive treatment, the syphilis infection will move into the secondary stage. Secondary Stage Symptoms Untreated primary stage syphilis moves into the secondary stage about two to eight weeks after your first chancre sore has healed. At this stage, you may experience a wide variety of symptoms in your body such as: Red or reddish-brown rashes on the palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet More chancre sores on your genitals, inside the mouth, throat, or anus Sore throat Fever Weight loss Fatigue and weakness Patchy hair loss on your scalp, beard, or eyebrows Swollen lymph nodes Like the primary stage, secondary stage syphilis is highly contagious. Rashes and chancre sores contain large amounts of T. pallidum bacteria, making it easy to transmit the infection to your sexual partners. Similar to primary stage symptoms, secondary stage symptoms will go away on their own even if you don't receive treatment. However, not receiving treatment significantly raises your risk of moving on to the latent or tertiary stages of syphilis. STI vs STD: Do They Mean the Same Thing? Latent Stage Symptoms Without treatment, syphilis can exist in your body for months or a few years without visible symptoms. This is known as the latent or inactive stage. This stage is further divided into: Early-latent stage: Initial infection happened within the last 12 monthsLate-latent stage: Initial infection happened more than 12 months ago It's important for your healthcare provider to know if you are experiencing symptoms during early or late latent stage syphilis. While active symptoms of syphilis are not present during this stage, your provider can order a blood test that can still detect the infection. This helps your provider determine which treatment is best for you and if the infection is transmissible to sexual partners. Tertiary Stage Symptoms Thanks to syphilis awareness and screening efforts, most people do not develop tertiary or late stage syphilis. However. symptoms may go unnoticed or may not be present at certain stages, as seen in the latent stage. As a result, tertiary stage syphilis is still possible. Getting to the tertiary stage of syphilis usually takes many years. However, some people can get to this stage within a year of their initial syphilis infection. Tertiary stage syphilis is severe and damages different organs through: Gummas: Deep sores that can eat away at the area where the sores develop, such as the skin, lungs, liver, or boneCardiovascular syphilis: Bacteria spreads to and attacks your heart and blood vesselsNeurosyphilis: The infection spreads to and damages your nerves, spinal cord, and brain Unfortunately, syphilis-related damage to the organs can be fatal at the tertiary stage. However, treatment can still stop the infection from worsening. But treatment cannot undo the damage that syphilis has already caused. It's also important to note that syphilis is not contagious during this stage. When to See a Healthcare Provider If you notice symptoms of syphilis or recently had sex with a partner who tested positive for the infection, it's good practice to see your healthcare provider to get tested. Talk to your healthcare provider about syphilis testing if you are sexually active and: Your sexual partner has symptoms of or tested positive for syphilis or any other STI You have unprotected sex You have tested positive for another STI Starting treatment as soon as possible helps prevent or delay the damage that syphilis causes. A Quick Review Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that you can get through skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Symptoms of syphilis change as the infection progresses over four stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Common symptoms include chancre sores where the bacteria entered the body–typically occurring on your genitals, mouth, throat, or anus. Without treatment, syphilis can spread to your nerves, brain, spinal cord, heart, and blood vessels. If you believe you have syphilis symptoms or may have been exposed to the infection, it's important to get tested and start treatment as soon as you can. Early treatment stops syphilis progression and prevents long-term damage to your body. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit 5 Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. MedlinePlus. Syphilis. Hicks CB, Clement M. Syphilis: Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and clinical manifestations in patients without HIV. In: Post TW. UpToDate. UpToDate; 2022. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic fact sheet. Tudor ME, Al Aboud AM, Leslie SW, et al. Syphilis. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Syphilis: Signs and symptoms.