The spiral-shaped bacteria of syphilis is a common image on STD posters, for a reason. This virus has few specific symptoms-many of them imitate other diseases or are absent in any of the stages. Syphilis is divided into stages, each with their own set of symptoms and level of damage to the entire body.

What are the symptoms?

There are a few times that there are no symptoms or mild ones. The common first stage symptom is a chancre sore, or a group of them, which will be firm, round and painless enough to be mistaken for an ingrown hair, or possibly a small herpes breakout, or even acne. These are seen, at first, near where the infection occurred- which may be in the genital areas or in the mouth region. These will heal in 3 to 6 weeks, even if untreated. You are not free of the bacteria simply because they heal.

Second-stage, which occurs anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months after you are infected, give a rash that doesn't itch. This can show up anywhere on the body and is one of the better times to spread the bacteria. There may be more sores this time. Sometimes, this will start while the first batch of sores is healing. You may also feel tired, achy, have swollen glands in your throat, and hair is lost in patches.

The latent stage is when all of the symptoms disappear. There will be no more rash, no sore, and you will feel normal. This stage can last for years, while the bacteria continue to infect the body and cause major damage.

Once the latent stage is done, which could be any time up to 30 years after you are infected, you may progress to late-stage syphilis. This is the stage where it is obvious: you will have numbness, lack of coordination, blindness, or dementia. The bacteria has invaded all of your organs and will continue to cause damage.

Diagnosis and treatments

Those caught in the 'early' stage of syphilis have had the first one or two stages (or in the first year after infection). These people have had the greatest likelihood of infecting others, but they also have a better chance of getting the disease cured.

Being a bacteria, syphilis can be re-caught, either from your partner or by having unprotected sex with someone who has the disease. A blood test is required to confirm the presence of syphilis since many of the stages can be so easily mistaken-even for professionals- for other diseases.

Treatment is, of course, best started early, since there is no way to reverse any damage done to the nerves and organs once it has happened. Antibiotics, for both you and your tested partner, are the first course of treatment. You need to be re-tested once you have finished your treatment to make sure that it was effective, especially if using a non-penicillin antibiotic.