Syphilis Home > Stages of Syphilis

There are four stages of syphilis: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. The first stage typically begins 3 weeks after infection and is characterized by small painless sores called chancres. As the disease progresses, a rash may develop on the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet. In the last stages of syphilis, symptoms may not appear at all; when they do, they are usually serious, causing damage throughout the body.

Stages of Syphilis: An Overview

The four stages of syphilis include:
  • Primary syphilis
  • Secondary syphilis
  • Latent syphilis
  • Tertiary syphilis.

Stages of Syphilis: Primary Syphilis

Primary syphilis is the first stage of syphilis. Symptoms during this stage usually start about 3 weeks after a person becomes infected with the syphilis bacteria (Treponema pallidum), but the range is from 10 to 90 days. The first symptom of primary syphilis is often a single, small, round, painless sore, called a chancre.
Because chancres are usually painless and can occur inside the body, a person might not notice it. The chancre disappears in about 3 to 6 weeks whether or not a person is treated.

Stages of Syphilis: Secondary Syphilis

Many people with the condition develop symptoms of second-stage syphilis, because it is quite easy to overlook the symptoms of primary syphilis and not seek treatment right away.
In this stage of syphilis, symptoms can begin 2 to 10 weeks after the chancre sore appears. The most common symptom is a rash on the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet.
The symptoms of secondary syphilis will resolve with or without treatment. Without syphilis treatment, however, the infection will progress to the latent and late stages of syphilis. A person can also have recurrences of secondary syphilis symptoms.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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