Testing

Testing

In order to prevent life-threatening complications of syphilis, patients should be tested if they have symptoms of syphilis or suspect that they were exposed to syphilis.
Doctors recommend annual STD screenings for patients who have increased risks of developing STDs. This includes patients who have multiple sexual partners, engage in unprotected sex, or who have sexual partners who have or have previously had an STD. Routine testing is especially important for detecting syphilis because symptoms may come and go.

If the patient has sores that are characteristic of syphilis, a healthcare provider may scrape a small sample of cells from affected skin. The cells are then analyzed under a microscope for the presence of Treponema pallidum. If the bacterium is present, a positive diagnosis is made. If patients do not have sores, a blood test may be used to diagnose syphilis. A sample of blood is taken from the patient and analyzed for antibodies to the bacterium that causes syphilis. These antibodies are proteins that are specialized to detect and help destroy the bacterium. If the antibodies are present, a positive diagnosis is made.

If it is suspected that the infection has spread to the brain, a healthcare provider may recommend a test called a lumbar puncture. During the procedure, a long thin needle is inserted into the lower back. A small sample of fluid from the spine (cerebrospinal fluid) is removed and analyzed under a microscope for the disease-causing bacteria.

Selected References
American Social Health Association. www.ashastd.org. Accessed April 28, 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). www.cdc.gov. Accessed April 28, 2009.
Cline JS. Sexually transmitted diseases: will this problem ever go away? N C Med J. 2006 Sep-Oct;67(5):353-8.
Rupp RE, Stanberry LR, Rosenthal SL. Vaccines for sexually transmitted infections. Pediatr Ann. 2005 Oct;34(10):818-20, 822-4.
World Health Organization (WHO). www.who.int. Accessed April 28, 2009.
Zhou P, Qian Y, Xu J, et al. Occurrence of Congenital Syphilis After Maternal Treatment With Azithromycin During Pregnancy. Sex Transm Dis. 2007 Jul;34(7):472-474.