Early stage syphilis symptoms
The first symptom of syphilis is an ulcer or chancre that develops 10 to 90 days after the infection has occurred. The average time until the development of the ulcer is 21 days. The ulcer is painless and can occur in the mouth or on the genital organs. The ulcer contains the bacteria responsible for syphilis and the infection can be spread by contact with the ulcer.
Treatment with antibiotics can cure the infection, and in some women, the infection will go away on its own even if untreated. Some women will go on to develop the next stage of syphilis. Secondary syphilis develops weeks to months after the primary infection. Symptoms at this stage last from 4 to 6 weeks and can vary. One characteristic symptom is a skin rash that does not itch and usually is seen on the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands. The rash can be faint and hard to notice. Other symptoms of secondary syphilis can include white patches in the nose, mouth, and vagina. Sore throat, fever, headaches, hair loss, and sores on the genitals that resemble genital warts may also be present.
Some women will go on to develop the third stage of syphilis. Tertiary, or third stage, syphilis, develops years after the initial infection -- up to 20 years or more in many people. At this stage, syphilis is no longer contagious. Tertiary syphilis involves the formation of tissue masses called gummas in different organs. Complications of tertiary syphilis can include problems with the nervous system (manifested by varying symptoms like deafness, confusion, stroke, weakness, or problems with sensation) and abnormal distension of the aorta. Tertiary syphilis can cause severe damage to multiple organ systems and even be life threatening. Damage to the eyes can lead to loss of sight.
Antiobiotics, primarily penicillin, are very effective in treating syphilis.
Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease
Euerle, Brian, et al. “Syphilis.” Medscape. 6 Jan. 2012.