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Sexual Conditions Health Center

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Stages of Syphilis - Topic Overview


Secondary stage continued...

The skin rash usually heals without scarring within 2 months. After healing, skin discoloration may develop. But even though the skin rash has healed, syphilis is still present and a person can still pass the infection to others.

When syphilis has spread throughout the body, the person may have:

  • A fever of usually less than 101°F (38°C).
  • A sore throat.
  • A vague feeling of weakness or discomfort throughout the body.
  • Weight loss.
  • Patchy hair loss, especially in the eyebrows, eyelashes, and scalp hair.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes.
  • Nervous system symptoms of secondary syphilis, which can include neck stiffness, headaches, irritability, paralysis, unequal reflexes, and irregular pupils.

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 congenital syphilis.

A person is contagious during the early part of the latent stage and may be contagious during the latent period when no symptoms are present.

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.1 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 illness.

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.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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