Many people infected with syphilis do not have any symptoms for years, yet remain at risk for late complications if they are not treated.
Although transmission appears to occur from persons with sores who are in the primary or secondary stage, many of these sores are unrecognized. Thus, most transmission is from persons who are unaware of their infection.
A brief outline of symptoms is listed below. For more detailed information, please visit our Stages and Symptoms page.
Primary Stage: One or more sores (called a chancre), that are firm, round, small, and painless. The first symptom begins from 10 to 90 days after infection, lasts three to six weeks, and heals without treatment. Without treatment the infection progresses into the secondary stage.
Secondary Stage: Skin rash and mucous membrane lesions begin shortly after the primary stage is complete. Rashes appear as rough, red, or reddish brown spots both on the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet. Additional symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Latent Syphilis: Causes no symptoms and the infection can only be detected with a blood test. If not treated, latent syphilis continues for life. Although many people with latent syphilis never have serious problems, some progress to the final stage, called late (tertiary) syphilis.
Late (tertiary) Stage: Begins when secondary symptoms disappear and affect the body internally. Signs and symptoms include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. Syphilis is not contagious at this stage, although the damage it does to the infected person can result in death.