Syphilis can initially be difficult to identify because its wide variety of symptoms may be mistaken for other sexually transmitted diseases, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis sores are painless and may look like ingrown hairs, while a non-itchy body rash can appear anywhere on the body.
Some patients with syphilis exhibit few or no symptoms whatsoever, according to the CDC.
Syphilis is loosely categorized into three stages that may overlap, reports Planned Parenthood. Because symptoms vary based on the stage but don't always occur in the same order, the disease is hard to recognize. In the first stage, a chancre or painless sore appears and lasts for three to six weeks. It is usually located in the genitals, cervix, mouth, hands or breasts. Secondary stage symptoms appear several weeks after the chancres and may disappear and reappear for up to two years. They include body rashes, headaches, fevers, sore throats and other symptoms.
Finally, if syphilis is not treated, it reaches the late stage and threatens the nervous system and other organs, states Planned Parenthood. This can occur from one to 20 years after the initial infection. It is possible for patients to die when they reach this stage.