Syphilis, as most of us are aware, is a sexually transmitted disease. This is caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. Almost always syphilis is transmitted through physical intercourse, but it can also sometimes be transmitted from a pregnant mother to the fetus.
There are several symptoms of syphilis, but until recently it was hard to precisely diagnose whether or not the patient is suffering from syphilis as it was very often confused with other diseases. The first sign of syphilis is the presence of chancres. These are painless ulcers or sores that appear on the skin, particularly in the penis or vagina - parts of the body that come in contact with another syphilis infected person. But quite often, because these chancres are painless they go unnoticed.
The second sign is red rashes that appear in the skin usually in the palms and soles. There could be other symptoms too like fever, sore throat, body aches and fatigue. If syphilis is not diagnosed and treated at this stage it could lead to a tertiary infection several years later. The tertiary stage can be pretty fatal as the disease could cause damage to the heart, eyes, bones, nervous system and practically any other part of the body.
There are several tests that can be conducted if one suspects syphilis. One method of syphilis testing involves collecting scrapings of the chancres. This scraping is obtained using a tool called a dark-field microscope. The other method is to take a blood test to check for antibodies.
While screening for syphilis doctors usually recommend two blood tests-one being VDRL, i.e. venereal disease research laboratory test, and the second being the rapid plasma reagin rest (RPR). When the doctor is looking for diagnosis tests most recommended are FTA-ABS (fluorescent treponemal absorption test) and TPPA (treponema pallidum particle agglutination assay) test.
Treatment for syphilis requires antibiotics medication, particularly penicillin. However, even after the treatment, one needs to take an RPR to check if the treatment was successful. In fact ideally, after taking the prescribed medication, it is advisable to get the blood tested in 3, 6, 9, 12 and 24 months to ensure the bacteria has been eliminated from the system.
The accuracy of the screening and diagnostic tests will depend upon the stage of syphilis infection. An FTA-ABS test for instance sometimes shows positive for syphilis even though the disease has been treated. However, an RPR test can help detect antibody levels pre and post syphilis treatment. Typically the VDRL and RPR tests are most accurate when syphilis is during its second or middle phase.