Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis

Unlike other common bacterial STDs like chlamydia or gonorrhea, syphilis is a potentially fatal infection. Indeed, even as recently as 2015 over 100,000 people worldwide died as a result of syphilis infections. The silver lining to this issue is that since syphilis is a bacterial disease, it can be treated relatively quickly and cured completely with antibiotics. However it’s often difficult for those infected to identify the symptoms in the first place. That’s because syphilis symptoms can be difficult to detect or easily confused with other conditions. Here then are the signs and symptoms of syphilis –– a common, yet harmful STD:

Primary Stage Symptoms

Syphilis has three (or four, depending on who you ask) stages of development. The initial stage occurs roughly a few weeks after initial contraction. In this primary phase, a contagious syphilis chancre (small sore) will form where the infection entered the body –– i.e., somewhere on, in, or around the genitals. Typically individuals will only experience a single chancre and may not even notice it before it goes away. Note here that just because a syphilis symptom ceases it doesn’t mean the infection has left the body.

Secondary Stage Symptoms

The secondary stage of syphilis normally occurs a few months after initial exposure. Again, like the first stage, symptoms are normally mild and will dissipate over time without treatment. Rashes on the hands and feet, swollen glands, headaches, and fevers all characterize second-stage syphilis.  

Latent Stage

After the first two phases of syphilis, the disease enters a period of latency, or inaction. (Some professionals count this as its own “stage” while others don’t.) Unsurprisingly, not much at all happens while syphilis is dormant. The major concern is that an untreated individual takes this latency period as confirmation of their own well-being. This period can last for years, and in some instances, decades at a time without incident. Remember, most people who have STDs don’t realize it.

Tertiary Stage Symptoms

Though most individuals who contract syphilis never reach this third stage, those that do will encounter some major health problems. Without treatment, late syphilis can cause blindness, nerve damage, paralysis organ failure, brain damage, and death. Even at this juncture, it’s possible to treat and cure syphilis; yet it may be too late to reverse the collateral damage the infection caused.


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