Syphilis is an STI that spreads when bacteria enters the body through mucous membranes or skin abrasions. Syphilis can be cured easily with antibiotics, but it can cause lasting damage if left untreated. Using condoms during sex reduces your risk of getting syphilis.
Syphilis can infect the genitals, anus, lips, and mouth. The symptoms of syphilis vary depending on how long you’ve had the infection. These are the symptoms you might experience as the infection progresses through four stages:
- Primary stage: One or more sores typically develop during the primary stage of syphilis. The sores, which are usually round, firm, and painless, appear at the infection site. These sores heal within three to six weeks. Without treatment, however, the infection will remain in your body and continue to spread.
- Secondary stage: Skin rashes and mucous membrane lesions sometimes develop during the secondary stage of syphilis. Other symptoms at this stage might include fever, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, and hair loss. These symptoms eventually go away their own.
- Latent stage: No visible symptoms occur during this stage, but the infection can remain in your body for years if left untreated.
- Tertiary stage: Untreated syphilis does not typically progress to this point. When it does, however, it can affect the heart, blood vessels, brain, and nervous system. Tertiary syphilis usually takes 10 to 30 years to develop after the initial infection. Although rare, this advanced stage can cause organ damage and might even result in death.
Medical providers can prescribe antibiotics to cure syphilis. Treatment cannot undo any damage the infection has already caused, so it’s best to get treated before syphilis reaches the tertiary stage.
Protect Against Syphilis
You can get syphilis again even if you’ve had it before. To reduce your risk of getting syphilis, use latex condoms every time you have sex and get tested for STIs regularly.