During its second stage, syphilis may lead to a rash on one or several parts of the body. It most commonly affects the trunk, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. The rash typically does not itch.

Syphilis is a preventable and treatable sexually transmitted infection (STI) that develops in stages. Other symptoms can occur alongside a rash in its second stage, including fever, swollen glands, and fatigue.

Knowing how to recognize a syphilis rash can help a person identify the condition and seek suitable treatment. This article explains what the symptoms of a syphilis rash are, where it may develop, what treatments may help, and more.

View the slideshow below for photos of syphilis rashes.

Syphilis rashes can develop in one or more areas of the body. They most frequently develop on the trunk. They can also affect the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

When a person first gets syphilis, they may develop sores at the initial site of infection for 3 to 6 weeks. The first syphilis rashes may show while the initial sore is healing, but they can also become visible after the sore has healed.

A syphilis rash may be subtle. It can also appear as plaques, pimples, or lumps that are red or brown and rough.

Rarely, syphilis rashes can also develop as red, pus-filled pimples that surround a plaque, almost looking like a flower. Doctors describe this as corymbose syphilis.

Around 90% of people with syphilis experience a rash that is not itchy.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most cases of syphilis are asymptomatic. This means that the individual may not know that they have syphilis.

Learn about what can cause an itchy rash.

A syphilis rash develops during the second stage of syphilis. Rashes are a common symptom of syphilis in its second stage, developing as a nonitchy rash in around 90% of people with secondary syphilis.

Left untreated, syphilis reaches the second stage around 25% of the time. This can occur 6 weeks to 3 months after developing the original sore.

If syphilis transmits between a mother and child during pregnancy, the child might also experience a rash in the early stages of the condition.

Learn more about the stages of syphilis.

Other symptoms may occur at the same time as a syphilis rash, including:

These symptoms may get better without treatment. However, getting treatment can prevent the risk of it reaching the tertiary stage, which can have dangerous effects throughout the body. It is important to contact a doctor as soon as a person has concerns about syphilis.

Doctors can diagnose syphilis by:

  • performing a physical examination
  • taking a medical and sexual history
  • taking fluid directly from a syphilis sore
  • ordering blood tests

Blood tests show antibodies a person’s immune system creates in response to a Treponema palliduminfection, the bacteria responsible for syphilis. However, these antibodies are not specific to syphilis. This can lead to false positives, which show a positive result where syphilis might not be present.

A person may need a follow-up test that uses fluid from a sore. A doctor can examine this under a microscope. Both tests are often necessary to confirm a syphilis diagnosis.

While a syphilis rash may resolve without treatment, it is important to receive treatment to prevent the condition from progressing.

In its second stage, a single injection of penicillin can be enough to treat syphilis.

Although a syphilis rash typically does not itch, a doctor can recommend treatments to manage any itchiness that may occur.

Syphilis is curable with antibiotics. However, antibiotics might not reverse any damage that has already taken place in the body.

Contact a doctor as early as possible to help reduce the likelihood of organ damage.

A person should contact a doctor if:

  • they or a sexual partner have symptoms of syphilis
  • a sexual partner has told them about a syphilis diagnosis or another STI
  • they have had sex with a new partner without using a condom
  • they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and suspect syphilis
  • they use injectable drugs and have shared a needle with a person who may have syphilis

It is also important to contact a doctor if a person develops a rash, particularly if it does not go away or respond to home treatments.

A doctor can order tests to confirm syphilis and rule out other possible conditions.

In its second stage, syphilis can cause a rough red or brown rash. It usually develops on the trunk of the body, the palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet.

A syphilis rash is usually not itchy. It can develop alongside other symptoms, such as fatigue, unexplained weight loss, headaches, and a sore throat. Corymbose syphilis can also develop, which leads to red spots that surround a central plaque.

A person should contact a doctor as soon as they have concerns about syphilis. The doctor can confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes for the rash. They can then help create a suitable treatment plan, which typically includes antibiotics.