Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can progress through multiple stages when left untreated.
Each stage is associated with different symptoms, which makes syphilis difficult to diagnose. Bacteria causing syphilis can be transmitted when contact is made with a syphilitic sore on an infected person through kissing, vaginal, oral and/or anal sex. Vertical transmission from mother to child during birth can have serious implications on the health of the baby. When diagnosed, syphilis can be easily treated with antibiotics during any stage of the disease.
Why consider this test?
Syphilis testing is recommended by the CDC for
- Individuals that are experiencing symptoms of syphilis
- Anyone whose sexual partner (oral, anal or vaginal) has been recently diagnosed with syphilis
- Pregnant women
- HIV-positive individuals who are sexually active (routine testing recommended)
- Men who have sex with men (routine testing recommeneded)
If you were recently exposed to syphilis, please note that while a syphilis infection can be identified as early as 1 to 2 week following exposure, in some cases it may take up to 3 months before a reactive test is observed.
What’s included in this test?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum. There are two types of laboratory tests available for diagnosing syphilis using a blood sample, nontreponemal tests and treponemal tests.
This is a treponemal test, as it detects syphilis specific antibodies to several antigens from the bacterium. A positive result from this test can be indicative of either a current infection or a past, resolved infection. As such additional testing with a nontreponemal test may be required to confirm a current infection.
Symptoms of syphilis
Syphilis has been dubbed “The Great Pretender” as symptoms can resemble other diseases. Syphilis infections have four distinct stages – primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.
The primary stage is marked by the appearance of one or more skin lesions (chancres) where the bacteria entered the body (genitals, rectum, or mouth). Chancres are generally painless and last 3 to 6 weeks. If untreated, the infection progresses to the secondary stage.
Skin rashes of varying appearance are common in the secondary stage. Other symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, headaches, and fever. If untreated, the infection progresses to the latent stage.
Latent (hidden) stage
There are no symptoms associated with the latent stage. However, the infection still persists in the body, and individuals are still infectious particularly in the early latent stage (within 2 years of original infection). The latent stage can last for many years.
Tertiary syphilis develops in 15-40% of untreated individuals. Multiple different organ systems can be affected including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, liver, bones, and joints. The associated symptoms vary depending on the affected body parts.