Medically reviewed on January 12, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Syphilis is a serious sexually transmitted disease that can potentially progress to severe health issues. Without treatment, syphilis can contribute to permanent health problems.
Like any other sexually transmitted infection, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, syphilis symptoms can show up differently in each person. Knowing the signs and symptoms of syphilis can help you identify the disease and receive treatment before it becomes a problem. STD testing is the first step to managing and treating an infection. Read on to learn more about the signs of syphilis in men.
Syphilis is a common bacterial infection that spreads primarily through sexual contact. It can infect your genitals, including your vagina, penis, scrotum, and anus, as well as your mouth and lips. You can contract syphilis through skin-to-skin contact during sex when your genitals or mouth touches a syphilis sore. Contracting syphilis does not require either party to come or any transfer of bodily fluids1.
Syphilis doesn’t spread through casual contact, so you can’t get it from:
A syphilis infection progresses through a few stages with varying symptoms from stage to stage.
In its initial infection stage, syphilis produces characteristic sores, known as chancres, that appear on the infected area. Chancres are typically painless, firm, and round, though they can pop open and appear wet. Most people typically only have one chancre at a time, but it’s possible to have several sores .
During this early syphilis stage, chancre sores are highly contagious, especially when they are open. Chancres are also easy to mistake for pimples, blemishes, or ingrown hairs. They can also appear in areas that are easily hidden, like the folds of the vagina or within the anus. This makes it easy to spread the infection to others during sex .
Chancres can develop anywhere from three weeks to three months after initial exposure. The sores will stick around for about three to six weeks before going away on their own. Keep in mind that, without treatment, you still have syphilis in your system, even if the chancres have disappeared .
A few weeks after your chancre has healed, you may develop a rash on your body that typically starts at your trunk and can spread to the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. This signals the beginning of secondary syphilis. This rash isn’t itchy, but it can be accompanied by warts on your genitals and in your mouth .
Along with the skin rash, you may experience flu-like symptoms, including:
These secondary stage symptoms can last up to six weeks, and you may experience these symptoms in ebbs and flows for up to two years .
During the latent syphilis stage, you may not experience any symptoms at all. The latent stage can last for months or years. You may not experience any symptoms again, but many people progress to the late stage .
About 15 to 30 percent of those who don’t receive treatment will progress to late stage syphilis. By late stage or tertiary syphilis, the infection has spread to other parts of your body, including the nervous system. By the tertiary stage, syphilis can damage your brain and nervous system, contributing to blindness and paralysis. It can contribute to problems in your heart and blood vessels. This damage may not be reversible with treatment and may even be fatal when left untreated .
Syphilis can be easily treated with a round of antibiotics, but it’s important to know what symptoms to look for. Testing can prevent further infection and severe health problems that arise from untreated syphilis infection. For added confirmation, get tested by your healthcare provider or clinician the Everlywell Syphilis Test, which allows you to test for syphilis in the comfort of your home.
What you need to know about each stage of syphilis
1. What is Syphilis? Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.
2. Syphilis. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.
3. What are the symptoms of syphilis? Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.