Stages of Syphilis - Topic Overview
Latent (hidden) stage
If untreated, an infected person will progress to the latent
(hidden) stage of syphilis. After the secondary-stage rash goes away, the
person will not have any symptoms for a time (latent period). The latent period
may be as brief as 1 year or range from 5 to 20 years.
Often during this stage an accurate diagnosis can only be made
through blood testing, the person's history, or the birth of a child with
A person is contagious during the early part of the latent stage
and may be contagious during the latent period when no symptoms are
Relapses of secondary syphilis
About 20 to 30 out of 100 people with syphilis have a relapse of the
secondary stage of syphilis during the latent stage.2 A relapse means the person had passed through the second
stage, had no symptoms, then began to experience secondary-stage symptoms again.
Relapses can occur several times.
When relapses no longer occur, a person is not contagious through
contact. But a woman in the latent stage of syphilis may still pass the disease
to her developing baby and may have a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or give birth to a
baby infected with congenital syphilis.
Tertiary (late) stage
This is the most destructive stage of syphilis. If untreated, the
tertiary stage may begin as early as 1 year after infection or at any time
during a person's lifetime. A person may never experience this stage of the
The symptoms of tertiary (late) syphilis depend on the
complications that occur. Complications of this stage include:
- Gummata, which are large sores inside the body
or on the skin.
- Cardiovascular syphilis, which affects the heart
and blood vessels.
- Neurosyphilis, which affects the nervous system.