STD Concern




Symptoms, Transmission and Treatment of Syphilis

By STD Concern

Syphilis is a treatable but highly contagious sexually transmitted disease or STD. The bacteria Treponema pallidum causes this disease, which occurs in several phases. The stages of syphilis include primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.


During the earliest phase of syphilis, the infection begins with the development of sores in ten to ninety days after exposure. Syphilis sores generally begin as small, round spots that are firm and painless but can also turn wet and open. They look like tiny ulcers and can occur anywhere on the genitals or mouth. 

During the secondary stage, a red rash typically develops on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands. Other rashes can occur elsewhere on the body. They usually look different than the rashes occurring on the hands or feet. The secondary stage occurs between six to thirty-six weeks after exposure and can last one to three months

Other symptoms that may develop include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • White patches in the mouth 
  • Fever
  • Warts in the groin area
  • Weight loss

Latent syphilis is the term used to describe the disease when it remains nonsymptomatic. The duration varies from one patient to another. In the tertiary or final stages, syphilis causes serious medical issues. These problems include:

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Dementia
  • Arthritis
  • Heart damage
  • Brain damage 
  • Paralysis
  • Death

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Syphilis is primarily spread through unprotected sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Infection can occur during prolonged body contact and/or kissing if sores are present. Syphilis does not occur during casual contact. It is not transmitted by contact with door knobs, toilet seats, clothing, utensils, bath tubs, hot tubs, or swimming pools. Congenital syphilis occurs when an infected mother passes the disease on to her newborn. When this occurs, the baby often develops abnormalities and sometimes the infant dies. 

Transmission Rates

The CDC has some startling details regarding the transmission rates of syphilis. New cases fell dramatically by the year 2000 after a steady decline. Unfortunately, the incidence of new cases doubled from 2005 and 2013, reaching new highs in 2017 when the total number of reported cases rose to 30,644 for of primary and secondary syphilis and 101,567 for all stages. In 2017, men having sex with men made up the largest group of primary and secondary syphilis at 52% of all cases. Women accounted for only 15% of all cases within the same category.


Untreated syphilis can lead to serious, life-threatening complications. When treated properly, syphilis is entirely curable in the early stages. While this STD can be treated, it is important to note that all of the damage caused by the infection is unaffected. The antibiotic penicillin successfully treats this STD and has done so since the late 1940's.

Even though syphilis sores clear up on their own after six weeks, the disease remains present in the body. If left untreated, new symptoms usually appear. Typically, symptoms occurring during the secondary stage also clear up on their own. Nonetheless, the infection remains present, and treatment is necessary to prevent the tertiary stage from taking place. 

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Disclaimer: Blog Posts not intended to DiagnoseTreatCure or Prevent Diseases.

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