Is a rash a common symptom of syphilis?
If I have syphilis, would I definitely develop a rash? What does a syphilis rash look like and can I get rid of it?
Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM on September 20, 2011
Thank you for writing to us. To know for sure whether you have a syphilis rash or perhaps an entirely different skin condition, I would encourage you to get tested…in the meantime, I’m happy to offer you some general information about syphilis for your consideration.
Yes, a rash can be a symptom of secondary syphilis infection. Before a rash develops, however, a small sore (or "chancre") at the site where the syphilis bacteria entered the body is typically the first sign of infection. After the chancre goes away, the infection progresses to its next stage (the secondary stage) in which a rash may develop.
Initially, a syphilis rash most often appears on the stomach or back...but it might also appear on other parts of the body (e.g., the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet). However, people with syphilis may not notice a rash…sometimes syphilis rashes are so minimal that they go ignored and undetected.
That said, a rash could indicate a number of other conditions besides syphilis. If you have a rash and you’ve had unprotected sex, or if other syphilis risk factors apply to you, getting tested for syphilis is a good idea. But I would also advise that talk to your doctor or a dermatologist about your rash.
Why? Because syphilis is sometimes referred to as the "great imitator," meaning that signs and symptoms of infection can mimic those of other diseases...so it’s important to get tested and checked out by a doctor to make sure that your rash is properly diagnosed and cared for.
If it turns out that you have syphilis, take heart…
Syphilis is easily cured with antibiotics. Untreated syphilis, however, can eventually cause serious health complications down the road.
To learn more about syphilis symptoms, testing, treatment and prevention, you might want to browse our Expert Guide to Syphilis.
Thanks again for contacting us, and I wish you the best of health.
- The New England Journal of Medicine: Rash Associated with Secondary Syphilis
Dr. Christoff is a practicing physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include the treatment of HIV and syphilis along with other STDs, the medical treatment of depression and chronic fatigue, and the specific health needs of gay and lesbian patients. Dr. Christoff was educated at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine and completed his residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.