Symptoms of syphilis may not be noticed or may mimic those of many other diseases. This may cause an infected person to delay seeking medical care and can make diagnosis difficult.
The four stages of syphilis have different symptoms.
Primary stage: During this stage of syphilis, a painless open sore (chancre) develops. Because syphilis is usually passed through sexual activity, sores are often found in the genital area, anus, or mouth, but they may also be found wherever the bacteria entered the body. This stage usually begins 3 – 4 weeks after the initial infection though may be as early as 9 days.
Secondary stage: A skin rash and other symptoms occur during the secondary stage, which begins 4 to 10 weeks after the initial infection. Secondary syphilis is highly contagious through direct contact with the mucous membranes or rash to the genital area.
Latent stage : This stage is often called the hidden stage of syphilis because usually no symptoms are present. The latent stage is defined as the year after a person becomes infected. A person in early latent stage may still be contagious. Many times, latent-stage syphilis is detected in a mother only after she gives birth to a child infected with syphilis (congenital syphilis).
Late (tertiary) stage: If syphilis is not detected and treated in the early stages, problems can develop because of damage caused by having the syphilis bacteria in the body for so many years. These may include heart disorders, mental disorders, blindness, other problems associated with the nervous system, and even death.