Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If left untreated, syphilis can cause brain, nerve, tissue damage, and death. Fortunately, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.


Syphilis is caused by specific bacteria. It is transmitted through direct contact with a syphilis lesion. This may occur when:
  • There is vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact with an infected person
  • A pregnant woman passes the infection to her unborn baby— congenital syphilis

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of getting syphilis include:
  • Having sex with a person infected with syphilis
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Not using a latex condom during vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Touching a syphilis lesion
  • Having other sexually transmitted diseases


Symptoms will depend on what stage the syphilis is in. There are 4 main stages.

Primary (First) Stage within 10-90 days of exposure

A single lesion will usually appear. It will occur in the area where the infection was originally passed. Common sites include the genitals, rectum, tongue, inside of the mouth, or lips.It will start as a raised and painless lesion. It will gradually break down to form an ulcer. The ulcer is painless at first with raised edges. It usually lasts for 3-6 weeks. The ulcer will heal on its own.Without treatment, the infection may move to the secondary stage. This can happen even if the ulcers are no longer visible.
Lymph Nodes
Male Lymph nodes
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Secondary Stage Several Weeks to Months after the Original Lesion

This stage is marked by the appearance of a non-itchy rash. This rash may appear as rough, red, or reddish brown spots on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. It is also possible for different rashes to appear in other places on the body. These rashes may appear as:
  • Small blotches, pustules, or scales
  • Moist warts in the groin area
  • Slimy white patches in the mouth
The rash may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as:
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes throughout the body
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
Untreated secondary symptoms will disappear within a few weeks, but there may be repeated episodes during the next few years.

Latency (Resting) Stage May Last for Years

The infection is still present but there are no symptoms. It may or may not progress to the third stage. Blood tests for syphilis will be positive during this stage.

Tertiary (Third or Late) Stage

This stage may begin years after the initial infection. This stage has become rare in developed countries. In this stage, the infection begins to damage:
  • Brain and nerves
  • Eyes
  • Heart and blood vessels
  • Liver
  • Bones and joints
Damage can be serious enough to cause death. Symptoms include the following:
  • Small bumps called gummas on the skin, bones, or internal organs
  • Blindness
  • Central nervous system damage, including weakness, numbness, trouble walking, difficulty with balance, memory and psychiatric problems, and loss of bladder control

Congenital Syphilis

Babies born with this infection can have problems, such as deafness, cataracts, brain and nerve damage, and seizures. It can also cause premature births or stillbirths.
Fetal Infection
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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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