The Three Stages of Syphilis

Treponema pallidium is the bacteria that cause syphilis, an STD or sexually transmitted disease. The infection is called venereal syphilis when it is sexually transmitted which is usually the case for the disease. It is also known as congenital syphilis when the infection has been passed over to an infant by an infected mother.

The 1950s was the time when penicillin became widely available which turned syphilis into an uncommon sexually transmitted disease. Yet, statistics still show new infections of 10 million every year.

There are no variations in symptoms for both men and women infected with syphilis. The symptoms are mild and hard to distinguish or recognize from other STDs. After exposure to the infection, it could take up to 3 months before symptoms begin to appear. The three stages of syphilis make it a slow progressing disease. The highly contagious stages of syphilis are its primary and secondary stages.

Stage 1 or Primary stage

There will be an appearance of one or more painless sores at the place where the bacteria of syphilis gained entry to the body. The sores make an appearance usually after 21 days after exposure. The sores are highly contagious and very hard to notice. The usual places where sores grow will be:

  • Around the mouth and anus for both men and women
  • In women, on the neck of the womb or cervix or outside the vagina or on the vulva
  • In men, on the penis

After 2 to 6 weeks, the sores start to heal even without treatment.

The infection will progress to the secondary stage if it is still untreated.

Stage 2 or secondary stage

After 3 to 6 weeks from the appearance of sores and infection is still not treated, it will now progress to the secondary stage. The symptoms will be:

  • Patchy hair loss
  • Swollen glands, flu-like symptoms, loss of appetite, and fatigue that lasts for weeks and even months
  • The roof of the mouth or the tongue will show white patches
  • Rashes that are not itchy will appear in patches or cover the entire body
  • The anus in both men and women or the vulva in women will show warty-looking flat growths

This stage is highly contagious which can be sexually transmitted to a sex partner. After a few weeks, the symptoms may disappear but it will recur for years.

The infection will be cured if treatment is done to these two stages of syphilis.

Stage 3 or tertiary or latent stage

If syphilis is still untreated, the disease will progress to the last stage. It is also called the latent stage as the infected person will not experience any symptoms at this time.

After 10 years and infection is still not treated, it will develop into the tertiary stage or symptomatic late syphilis phase. This stage will cause serious health conditions affecting the nervous system and the heart.

Treatment for the latent stage could still be possible, but the nervous system or heart damages that have occurred will be irreversible.

A Better Understanding Of Syphilis

Having sex with an infected person can transmit syphilis. Syphilis is caused by the bacteria called Treponema pallidum. The infection can enter the body through oral, vaginal, anal sex which can come in contact with an infected sore.

Sharing a needle with someone who is infected is another way of contracting syphilis.

An infected mother can pass the infection to her baby. It can cause serious health complications for the baby and mother if left untreated, leading to stillbirth or miscarriage.

You cannot get infected by syphilis when you share the same bathroom, toilet, utensils, and clothing with an infected person as bacteria cannot survive outside the body.

Phases of the infection

There are three phases in the development of syphilis and they are:

  • Primary syphilis or phase 1

Painless but very infectious sores can sometimes grow on the mouth, but more often on the genital area. Having close contact with the sores during sex can infect another person. The sore disappears after two to six weeks.

  • Secondary syphilis or phase 2

Development of a sore throat and skin rashes happen in this phase. After a few weeks, the symptoms disappear but do not leave. It will lie dormant in the body for many years which is called the latency or hidden period. If still untreated, it will progress to the most dangerous phase which is phase 3.

  • Tertiary syphilis or phase 3

Untreated syphilis will eventually progress to phase 3 or tertiary syphilis. This phase can cause serious medical problems to the body.

The most infectious phases of syphilis are the primary and secondary. During the latency phase which can happen about two years after being infected, the disease cannot infect other people.


If syphilis is diagnosed at onset stage, penicillin injections are the standard medical treatment given. A course of antibiotics can be another medical treatment. Your doctor will know what treatment will best apply to your case.

If syphilis is left untreated, it could cause serious diseases such as blindness, paralysis, stroke, and, eventually, death.


One of the leading complications to syphilis is the high chance of becoming infected with HIV. Syphilis causes genital sores that easily bleed making it a gateway for the virus from HIV to enter the blood during sex.

Having both HIV and syphilis infections can bring about serious health complications to the body because syphilis could rapidly progress to the tertiary phase compared to the normal progression of the disease.


The only way to avoid getting infected with syphilis is to have sex with a single uninfected partner that has been tested or to abstain from sex.

You can also reduce the chances of acquiring the infection by:

  • Not sharing needles, or sex toys
  • Safe sex practice which is by using a female or male condom during anal, vaginal or oral sexual activities
  • Using a plastic square or dental dam during oral sex

If you think that you have acquired syphilis visit STD test centers, clinics, hospitals or sex health organizations as soon as possible. Serious health conditions can be prevented when syphilis is treated earlier.