Syphilis Testing


There are different tests that can be done to determine if a person is infected with Syphilis bacterium.  Some tests can look for the antibodies of the bacteria itself while some tests can identify the bacteria directly. Testing can be done using:

  • Blood
  • Body fluid like spinal fluid
  • Tissue samples

There are two tests to confirm Syphilis infection, a screening test to check if Syphilis is present in your cells and a confirmatory test to determine the extent of the infection.

Syphilis Tests

  1. Venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test – this test look for the antibodies produced by the body when infected with Syphilis bacteria through the use of blood or spinal fluid. The particular antibody is not a direct result of Syphilis infection though hence sometimes the result can be “abnormal”.
  2. Rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test – this is another test to find syphilis antibodies. Once the test result is positive, a confirmatory test is needed.
  3. Enzyme immunoassay (EIA) test – this is a primary test to determine the presence of syphilis antibodies. To confirm it, VDRL or RPR must be done afterward.
  4. Fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) test – if a patient has been exposed to syphilis for more than a month, this test is recommended. A blood sample or a spinal fluid is needed to conduct the test.
  5. Treponema pallidum particle agglutination assay (TPPA) – this is one of the confirmatory tests for syphilis that doesn’t use spinal fluid. It also checks for antibodies presence.
  6. Darkfield microscopy – using a microscope, a sample tissue will be examined for possible sores with syphilis germs.
  7. Microhemagglutination assay (MHA-TP) – this is another confirmatory test that is used to confirm once another test showed that the patient has the presence of antibodies produced by syphilis germs.
Tests for syphilis detection

Why should you get tested?

If you are a high-risk person for syphilis infection, it is best to be tested because syphilis bacterium can travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. If untreated for a period of time, it can spread in the body and can cause heart and brain damages, spinal cord damage, blindness, and even death. Other reasons why you should get tested for syphilis are:

  1. To check if your treatment is working well
  2. To find other infections especially if you have sexually transmitted infection other than syphilis
  3. Pregnant women are recommended to have syphilis screening early in their pregnancy
  4. If you engage with different sexual partners, it is a way to protect yourself from complications from any possible infections like syphilis where the symptoms are rare.

Before taking the test, you should:

  • Inform your doctor if you are taking any other medications such as antibiotics or over the counter medicines
  • Tell your doctor if you have medical allergies like allergies to antibiotics and anesthesia
  • Tell your doctor if you have been dealing with bleeding problems or you are taking blood thinners like aspirin and warfarin
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or suspect it