Encyclopedia Home / S / Syphilis - secondary

Syphilis - secondary

  • Alternative Names

    Secondary syphilis


    Antibiotics are used to treat syphilis. The antibiotic of choice is penicillin, yet doxycycline may be used as an alternative in individuals with a penicillin allergy.

    For treatment of syphilis during pregnancy, penicillin is the drug of choice. Tetracycline cannot be used because it is toxic to the developing baby, and erythromycin may not prevent spread of the infection to the developing baby (congential syphilis). People allergic to penicillin should be desensitized to it before treatment.

    You must have follow-up blood tests at 3 and 6 months (and later if needed) to make sure the infection is gone. You should avoid sexual conduct until two follow-up tests show that the infection has been cured. Syphilis is extremely contagious in the primary and secondary stages.

    Several hours after treatment, some people have a reaction called Jarish-Herxheimer reaction. Symptoms of this reaction include:

    • Chills
    • Fever
    • General feeling of being ill
    • General joint aches
    • General muscle aches
    • Headache
    • Nausea

    These symptoms usually disappear within 24 hours.

    Syphilis is a reportable infection -- that means that doctors must reported any cases of syphilis to public health authorities, so that potentially infected sexual partners may be identified and treated.

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Secondary syphilis can be completely cured if diagnosed early and treated effectively. While it usually goes away within weeks, in some cases it may last up to 1 year. Without treatment, up to one-third of patients will develop late complications of syphilis.


    The complications of syphilis are related to the development of the syndromes associated with tertiary syphilis:

    • Cardiovascular complications (aortitis and aneurysms)
    • Destructive lesions of the skin and bones (gummas)
    • Neurosyphilis

    In addition, untreated secondary syphilis during pregnancy may spread the disease to the developing baby. This is called congenital syphilis.

    Calling your health care provider

    Notify your health care provider if you develop signs or symptoms of syphilis. Several conditions may have similar symptoms, so you will need to have a complete medical exam.

    If you have had intimiate contact with a person who has syphilis or any other STD, or have engaged in any high-risk sexual practices, including have multiple or unknown partners, or have used intravenous drugs, contact your doctor or get screened at at STD clinic or health department clinic.