If untreated, an infected
person will progress to the latent (hidden) stage of syphilis. The latent stage
is defined as the year after a person becomes infected. 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
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.
About 20 to 30 out of 100 people with syphilis
relapse of the infection during its latent
stage.2 A relapse means the person was
symptom-free but then started having symptoms again. Relapses can occur
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 infection to her developing baby and may have a miscarriage or 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 with
syphilis may never experience this stage of the illness.
this stage, syphilis may cause serious blood vessel and heart problems, mental
disorders, blindness, nerve system problems, and even death. The symptoms of
tertiary (late) syphilis depend on the complications that develop.
Complications of this stage include:
refers to syphilis passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy or during
labor and delivery. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force strongly recommend
that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis because of the severe
consequences of being pregnant while infected or having a child born with
congenital syphilis. Screening should be done:3, 4
- At the first prenatal visit for all pregnant
- At the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy and
again at delivery for women who are at high risk for syphilis.
Congenital syphilis increases the risk of fetal death and
medical complications in newborns. Syphilis enters the fetal blood system
placenta, causing infection in the newborn or death of
the fetus. Symptoms of congenital syphilis include:
- A highly contagious watery discharge from the
- Painful inflammation of the bone
- Contagious rash that frequently appears over the palms of
the hands and soles of the feet.
- Reduced red blood cells in the
- Swelling of the lymph
- Failure to grow and develop normally (failure to
Because there are
other conditions with similar symptoms, an accurate
diagnosis is important for treatment.