How is Syphilis diagnosed?

Because of the fact that symptoms related to syphilis can disappear or may never present themselves at all, diagnosis is very difficult. Therefore it is important to see your doctor as soon as you find a sore on your genital area or an extensive rash. Syphilis is confirmed through laboratory testing:

  • Microscopically. A sample from an open sore can be viewed to determine if the bacteria is present.
  • Blood Sample. Syphilis can also be confirmed through blood analysis.

Get tested for Syphilis

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. Later stages of the illness could require more aggressive treatment, possibly in a hospital. Act immediately and get tested today!

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What test do you use for Syphilis?

A Syphilis test is done in order to detect antibodies to the bacteria which causes Syphilis. Unfortunately Syphilis can be transmitted through any sexual contact, including kissing and/or oral sex. That is why it is important for you and your partner to have a talk before engaging in sexual intercourse without condoms. Alternatively, you ought to get yourself tested more regularly than once a year if you have several different partners.

There are three types of tests which screen for Syphilis: the venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test, the enzyme immunoassay (EIA) test, and the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test. All of them detect the Syphilis antibodies in the blood, and a positive EIA test is usually confirmed with a VDRL or RPR test. To diagnose Syphilis in an early stage, the darkfield microscopy test or the fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption test can check for antibodies to the Syphilis bacteria during the first 3 to 4 weeks after exposure.

The TPPA test is used to confirm a Syphilis positive diagnosis after another of the above tests have been positive; the same is true for the Microhemagglutination assay (MHA- TP). So no matter what, Syphilis tests will help you get a definite diagnose.

Testing window for Syphilis

All STDs have a test window period, which depends on how long it takes for the STD to incubate and manifest in the system. Though a lot of STDs can be asymptomatic, this does not mean they are not there.

You can have no symptoms and still spread the disease to your partner(s). The Syphilis test window period is usually ten to ninety days. Remember that even if your risk level is low, you should ideally get yourself tested at least once a year. If you doubt the results of your test, get a re-test!

Test accuracy for Syphilis

The Syphilis test accuracy may give a false positive as they are not highly specific; having some types of a disease unrelated to Syphilis can have a test yield a false-positive as the antibodies used to fight diseases like HIV, Lyme, Malaria or certain types of pneumonia are similar.

If you have a positive result, an FTA should be conducted in order to make sure the first Syphilis test was accurate and didn't yield a false positive. Should you be infected, make sure to notify your sexual partners so they get treated as well. Also remember that if you are infected, Syphilis increases your risk of contracting other STDs.

Mark Riegel, MD

Quick snapshot

Can it be cured?

Yes. Early stage syphilis is easily curable; Treatment is more difficult at later stages.

Type of Infection

Bacterial. Syphilis is caused by the bacterium ema pallidum.

How is it treated?

Antibiotics. A single injection of penicillin at early stage; Later stage treatment may require hospitilzation.

Recovery Time

Varies. Recovery from syphilis is not complete until all the sores are healed; Damage from the disease may be permanent.

Can I have sex?

No. Avoid sexual activity until the disease is fully cured.

Can I get re-infected?

Yes. Sexual intercourse with an infected partner can lead to re-infection.