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How soon can syphilis be detected following infection?

The primary symptom of syphilis usually takes between three to four weeks to show in the form of a small sore known as a chancre. The sore will not normally be painful, but it is highly infectious. Unfortunately it can often pass without detection and the infection progresses. The longer the disease is in your system, the more damage it can do.

Luckily tests are available, such as those from Your Sexual Health that can diagnose the condition as soon as 14 days following infection. This can lead to quick diagnosis if you think you’ve come into contact with the disease, helping you avoid nasty and contagious symptoms.

If the initial primary stage of syphilis passes without detection and the infection progresses to a secondary stage a rash will often appear. Unfortunately, without testing the rash can be mistaken for another condition and syphilis may go undiagnosed for many years.

Tertiary syphilis

Once the secondary stage passes the disease will enter the latent stage of syphilis when the effects are hidden. Despite showing no symptoms the bacteria remains in your body and may eventually enter the tertiary stages of syphilis which can cause much more threatening complications.

According to medical research figures in the US, as many as 15-30% of people who are untreated in the early stages will enter the tertiary stage. Potential outcomes include: –

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Memory loss
  • Destruction of soft tissue and bone
  • Heart disease
  • Neurosyphilis – an infection of the brain or spinal cord

Effective testing for syphilis

Because the symptoms are often innocuous and relatively hard to spot, sexual health tests against the condition are the only effective way to diagnose the condition. You should be tested for syphilis if you’ve been informed by a former or current sexual partner that they have the condition or if you notice any of the symptoms, including: –

  • A Chancre – small sore which will appear in or around the area when the sexual contact took place
  • A rash – usually evident on the palms of the hand or foot, but can appear anywhere
  • General symptoms – such as fever, swollen lymph nodes or fatigue if present alongside either of the above

If you’ve been informed by a person whom you have recently sleep with about the condition you should wait the 14 day period to ensure the test is accurate. False negatives can happen in syphilis diagnosis so you should be retested again after a 30 and 90 day window.

As a precaution you should also be tested for syphilis regularly if you’ve had more than one sexual partner in the previous year.

You can find out more about syphilis, including the symptoms, stages and treatment in our helpful guide on the condition or browse the range of tests available.