Author’s Bio: Saher B.Haider has a Pharmacy degree and is a freelance writer in the health and wellness industry. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time with her family. 

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can lead to severe complications.

It is a bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum that is transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. In the US alone, a total of 30,644 cases of syphilis were reported in 2017.

The disease is divided into four stages, with each stage presenting a different set of symptoms. The four stages of the infection are:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Latent
  • Tertiary

The spread and risk factors of syphilis are slightly different in men than in women. Here’s what CDC reports from epidemiological studies in American men and women:

Syphilis in women

Since 2013, the spread of syphilis has grown rapidly.
  • It can get more complicated in women than in men.
  • In 80% of the cases, a pregnant woman infected with the disease transmits it to her unborn baby during pregnancy or at birth, leading to congenital syphilis in the baby.
  • Untreated syphilis in women accounts for stillbirths and deaths in newborns in 40% of cases.

Syphilis in men

CDC reported the highest number of diagnoses in 2016, totaling up to 88,042 new cases.
  • Most of the cases were found among homosexual and bisexual men.
  • The highest number of cases were reported in men aged between 20 and 29 years.

What does syphilis look like?

Primary Syphilis: The infection starts as a genital ulcer that appears as a sore lesion in the primary stage. If not treated, this sore disappears within a few weeks, after which a ‘syphilis rash’ starts to appear in the secondary stage.

Secondary Syphilis: During this stage, rashes start to appear on and around the genitals, mouth, palms, and soles. A syphilis skin rash can be pink or brown.

When left untreated, it enters more advanced stages. During these stages, the infection is not only restricted to skin rash and sores.

Latent Stage: This stage is usually symptom-free, and there are no visible signs and symptoms.

Tertiary Stage: As the disease progresses to the tertiary stage, it starts to damage organs such as the eyes, brain, heart, liver, blood vessels, etc.

How do you get syphilis?

The most common sites of syphilis sores are the penis, labia, vagina, anus, rectum, and mouth. You can get the disease by direct skin-to-skin contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, rectal, anal, and oral sex with your infected partner. 

When do syphilis symptoms appear?

Once you have contracted the infection, the symptoms appear within 10 to 90 days of exposure. On average, the first symptoms can appear after 21 days of contraction.

Syphilis symptoms

People with syphilis present with symptoms differently in each stage. The early stages of the infection start with a single or several painless sores. Some people may remain symptom-free or present with very mild symptoms that go unnoticed. In such cases, sores may disappear on their own, but the infection persists, and the infected person can still pass it on to others.

Untreated syphilis in initial stages progresses to later stages where it presents serious complications and affects other organs of your body.

Syphilis symptoms in women and men

Symptoms of syphilis in women are pretty similar to those seen in men. These symptoms may change in each stage of syphilis or may keep appearing again.

Since the initial symptoms often go unnoticed, it is important to get any unusual sores or rashes assessed when they first appear around the genital sites or mouth.

Primary Stage

  • In its early stages, the main symptom is a painless sore or ulcer called a chancre that appears on the vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or lips.
  • Other symptoms include swollen glands in the neck and armpit. 

Secondary Stage

  • Untreated infection leads to rash and the appearance of small skin growths on the vulva and anus.
  • Red or brown spots on palms and soles.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • White patches in the mouth.

Latent Stage

The latent stage is usually the symptom-free stage. If left untreated, it may last from a few weeks to months and even years. 

Tertiary Syphilis

Not all people who are not treated for the disease go into the tertiary stage. Infected people may remain asymptomatic for years. The infection in tertiary syphilis is life-threatening and spreads throughout most organs, including the heart, liver, and brain. 

Can syphilis be cured?

Absolutely! It is a curable disease that can be treated with antibiotics.

Treating Syphilis

Are you looking for std treatment online? We are here to help you out! If you suspect you or your partner are suffering from syphilis or have symptoms similar to those of syphilis, consult our online doctors right away. At Home Urgent Care provides telemedicine services so you can safely and confidently keep your sexual health in check with our primary and urgent care services. Our online consultation services include physicians with expertise in std treatment and medication. Our doctors can evaluate your symptoms and order the appropriate std prescription at your pharmacy. Feel free to book an appointment today with our health care experts available at your convenience 365 days a year.

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Step 1

Call or Book your online Doctor Visit

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Step 2

Talk to a doctor over the Phone/ Tablet

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Step 3

If needed pick up your medication at the pharmacy


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Syphilis.” July 24, 2018. January 07, 2021.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Congenital Syphilis – CDC Fact Sheet.” January 31, 2017. January 07, 2021.
  3. NCBI Bookshelf. “Syphilis.” August 10, 2020. January 07, 2021.