What Are the Types and Stages of Syphilis?

Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). It’s easily cured but can be serious if it’s not treated.

This STD develops in four stages. Symptoms in the first two can be so mild that you might not notice them. One stage -- latent syphilis -- doesn’t have symptoms.

The other three phases have distinct symptoms. They develop as follows:

Primary

  • Painless sores appear at the site of infection (mouth, anus, rectum, vagina, or penis). These are called chancres.
  • The sores heal on their own after 3 to 6 weeks, but you can still spread syphilis.
  • It’s easily treated and cured with medicine.

Secondary

These symptoms will go away, even if you don’t get treated. But if you’re not treated, your infection will get worse.

Latent

During this phase, the syphilis bacteria are still alive in your body, but you have no signs or symptoms of the infection. You’re not contagious during this stage, but syphilis may still affect your heart, brain, nerves, bones, and other parts of your body. This phase can last for years.

Not everyone who has syphilis will enter this phase of the infection. Some people will go into the tertiary stage.

Tertiary (Late)

This stage begins when symptoms from the secondary stage disappear. Syphilis isn’t contagious at this point, but the infection has started to affect your organs. This can lead to death. Symptoms of tertiary syphilis may include:

  • Problems controlling muscle movements
  • Numbness
  • Vision problems (you may start going blind)
  • Dementia

When Is It Contagious?

If you have syphilis, you can spread it during the first two stages and the early latent stage to someone you have sex with. If your partner touches a chancre or your rash, they can get the infection. It can enter the body through the genitals, mouth or broken skin. A pregnant woman infected with syphilis can pass it on to her baby.

Even if the chancre is hidden inside your vagina or rectum, you can still spread syphilis. To lower your risk of catching this STD, always use condoms during sex. If you think there’s a chance you or your partner has it, get tested and treated.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Trina Pagano, MD on April 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Syphilis -- CDC Fact Sheet.”

Southern Nevada Health District: “Syphilis.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Syphilis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Syphilis.”

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