The most common signs of syphilis after a person has become infected are swelling of the lymph nodes around the groin area and a small, raised sore that is typically present on the genitals or mouth. In most cases, the sore is not painful and disappears within six weeks. Other signs of syphilis vary depending on what stage the disease is in. The first stage, usually referred to as the primary stage, is when the lymph nodes swell and the sore develops. The stages following the primary stage are known as secondary, latent, and tertiary syphilis.
During secondary syphilis, the initial sore has disappeared, and the disease has spread from the sore into the bloodstream. Most people who are in this stage of syphilis report feeling sick with flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever, sore throat, and fatigue. There may be sores in the mouth and a reddish-brown rash spreading across the body. It is also common for the lymph nodes to swell during this phase. Signs of syphilis in the secondary stage may persist for as long as nine months, but in some cases will disappear within three weeks.
After the secondary stage of syphilis has passed, the disease moves into the latent phase. During latent syphilis, the infected person usually doesn't experience any symptoms. This phase could last for as long as 50 years. Men are usually not contagious after the second year of latent syphilis, but a pregnant woman in this stage could still pass the disease on to her unborn child. It is very dangerous for a fetus to contract syphilis due to the risk of miscarriage or possibly birth defects if the pregnancy goes to term.
Tertiary syphilis is the final stage of the disease. It doesn't progress to this stage in everyone; less than half of syphilis sufferers ever reach this phase. Signs of syphilis in the tertiary stage are anemia, skin ulcers, fever, and liver disease. The spinal cord, heart, and brain could also be affected.
Syphilis can be diagnosed with a blood test, and is usually cured with a few shots of penicillin. The number of shots needed often depends on how long a person has been carrying the disease. When syphilis has reached the latent or tertiary stage, a hospital stay might be necessary so that penicillin can be administered through an IV. After treatment, multiple blood tests can determine whether or not the disease has been cured.