Expected Duration of Syphilis

By  , Expert Content
Sep 21, 2011

Syphilis is a contagious bacterial infection caused by treponema pallidum. It spreads most commonly from one person to another by sexual contact (oral, anal, vaginal). The symptoms and effects of syphilis can last from a week to a lifetime if not treated. If the infection is not treated, it moves from one stage to the next. The stages of syphilis are as follows:


  • Primary syphilis.
  • Secondary syphilis.
  • Latent syphilis.
  • Tertiary syphilis.


Primary Syphilis


This is the first stage of syphilis and at this stage a genital ulcer called chancre develops about 3 weeks after infection. The chancre can go away on its own without treatment in about 3 to 6 weeks.


Secondary Syphilis


In many people, symptoms in the first stage of syphilis may not be noticeable and they go on to develop symptoms of the second-stage of syphilis. These symptoms start about 2 to 10 weeks after the chancre sore appears and the symptoms at this stage will resolve with or without treatment. Without treatment the symptoms may last for weeks and may even extend up to a year.


Latent (hidden) Syphilis


This stage begins only if secondary syphilis is not treated and it can start after 2 years to even after 30 years after the initial infection. Latent syphilis without treatment may last for a few years or it may even last a lifetime.


Tertiary Syphilis


This stage starts after 10 to 40 years of infection and only if the person is not treated. However, even without treatment, only a minority of infected people progress to tertiary syphilis. This is the most dangerous stage of syphilis and it can be fatal.   


Treatment with antibiotics during the early stages (primary and secondary) can cure a syphilitic infection. The symptoms resolve within a few weeks. Treatment with antibiotics during the tertiary stage of syphilis can kill the bacteria causing the infection but the damage to the blood vessels, brain, and other organs will persist and are irreversible.   


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