Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that occurs most often among men and women in their early to mid-twenties. The progression of the disease goes through three stages, although not all stages may necessarily be manifest.

The first stage, also called the primary stage, typically begins with a sore located at the site of the infection. The sore shows up as a lesion and is called a chancre, normally appearing as a crater or ulcer on the penis, vagina, mouth, lips or any other part of the body where an infection can occur. This lesion normally takes about three to four weeks to develop and typically heals of its own after about a week. However, just because the sore goes away doesn’t mean that the infection goes away, too. It simply makes its way into the second stage.

The second stage is often accompanied by a skin rash marked by small brown sores. This rash can appear any time from thee weeks to six weeks after the chancre appears and may cover the entire body or just parts of it. The rash almost always appears on the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet, however. It is important to keep contact down to the barest possible minimum during this stage because any physical contact whatever with broken skin can spread the infection. Typically the rash heals within a matter of weeks or months. This stage is also accompanied by a wide variety of other symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Headache
  • Decreased appetite
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The third stage, also known as the early latent phase, is distinguished by sporadic reversion to earlier symptoms experienced during the second phase. It is possible for someone with syphilis to exhibit no symptoms more than two years after the beginning of this stage, but still be able to infect others through either sexual intercourse or a blood transfusion.

Roughly one-third of those with latent syphilis will progress to a fourth stage after several years, or even decades. This stage is known as tertiary syphilis and it can infect the heart, brain, skin and bones. Since the advent of antibiotics, however, this stage has become rare.