Primary syphilis, or the first stage of the infection, can last between 5-90 days after it is acquired. Once syphilis is acquired, the infection progresses into four stages that include primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.
The key features of primary syphilis include the following:
- Chancre: a primary skin lesion, called a “chancre”, often develops at the site upon infection. The lesion may measure 1-3 centimeters, is circular, dark red, or purple and is painless. In the middle of the lesion, the skin may be broken, and an ulcer may be visible. Most people only develop one such lesion, but patients who are immunocompromised may develop numerous lesions that are painful.
- Enlargement of lymph nodes: these small lesions usually appear within 2-4 weeks after the initial infection and are most common around the groin. The lymph nodes are not tender but can be large and easily palpable. These lymph nodes may persist for 4-6 weeks if no treatment is undertaken.
- General malaise and fatigue: these symptoms do not occur in everyone and are often mistaken for a cold or flu. These symptoms last 7-14 days and are usually resolved thereafter.
During the primary stage of syphilis, the individual is highly infectious, and the chances of transmission are high. Primary syphilis can be treated and cured; but it is important to understand that the partner must also be treated, otherwise the cycle of transmission will continue.