When a Syphilis Test is ordered?
A test is essential when someone:
- Has syphilis symptoms — when there is a chancre on the genitals or throat.
- Is either infected with or being treated for another STD — such as gonorrhea or HIV.
- Is pregnant. A test is mandatory as CDC recommends, purely to protect the baby from a possible infection.
- Has non-specific symptoms that resemble or point to those of syphilis. Such a test can help in determining the exact cause of the illness.
- Is a man, who has anal sex with men.
- Has engaged in high-risk sexual activity, whether man or woman.
- Has one or more partners who have tested positive for syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, or other such STDs.
As per CDC recommendations, periodical follow-up testing for such cases is essential. When a person has been treated for syphilis in the past, a follow-up testing helps in ensuring that treatment is successful and the infection cured.
In people who are sexually active, they should consult a doctor about any suspicious rash or sore in the genital area. A chancre on the genital most probably indicated a syphilis infection but that’s not the only STD which causes genital sores and rashes. There are many other sexually transmitted diseases besides syphilis.
If you are tested positive, tell your sexual partner(s) to get tested as quickly as possible. That’s the least you can do to save a spouse. This is a must to stop the spread of the disease.
Why It Is Done
Syphilis bacteria can spread through the bloodstream to all parts of the body. If not treated in time, syphilis is capable of causing terminal heart attacks, brain damage, bone and spinal cord damage, complete blindness, and death.
The risk of contracting other STDs increases if you have syphilis. This STD prepares the ground for the invasion other STDs. When chancres are present, you are at least 10 times more likely to be infected with HIV, if exposed. So, if you have them, you should be tested for HIV.
How a Syphilis test is done
A test for syphilis is done to Screen for syphilis or check treatment for a syphilis infection. A screening tests helps the doctor to look for a certain disease or condition before the real symptoms manifest. This increases our chance of finding the infection before we are forced to test for syphilis. An advanced diagnosis can save precious time in treating the patients for a full recovery before permanent damage is done to organs and tissues.
There are two types of tests used for confirming the infections. The first one searches for the antibodies and the other method searches for the Treponema pallidum bacteria or genetic materials from the bacteria.
Why are there two methods instead of one?
In the early stages of infection with Treponema pallidum, our body is not in a state of producing sufficient antibodies. The time taken by human body to produce syphilis antibodies varies considerably. This period is called the Syphilis Window period, which varies between 2 to 90 days. Some people show up the antibodies as quickly as 2 days and some take as long as 90 days for the same. But after 90 days almost everybody show up the antibodies.
As it is not possible to determine the window period for a particular STD in each individual, so we use two different methods to determine an infection. If one method tests negative we try out the other. Even if someone tests positive, the other method is used to confirm the result. Otherwise it is considered a false positive. But in both the cases the individual has to undergo another test in 90 days.
Screening for Syphilis:
Antibody tests: These tests detect antibodies in the blood serum (Serology test) and sometimes in the cerebrospinal fluid. This test is taken if the history of infection indicates that the patient is well beyond the window period. If the individual doesn’t display detectable amount of antibodies, then there can be two reasons.
- He is well within the Window period.
- He is not infected.
So, the individual has to undergo the following test.
Diagnosis Syphilis Test:
The purpose of this test is to detect the Treponema pallidum bacteria or its genetic materials. In early stages of Syphilis there may not be sufficient antibodies, so an antibody test will most likely come out negative. To avoid such false negatives, this test searches for the bacteria itself in the test samples taken from the chancre or genital sore. A special instrument called a dark-field microscope is used to detect the bacteria.
Home Syphilis Test:
Sometimes, testing for syphilis alone may not be enough, so you have to test for HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia additionally. Some home kits come as a test bundle kit with the following for these STDs combined.
This bundle contains the following tests:
- 2 x HIV Rapid Test
- Chlamydia Test
- Gonorrhea Test
- Syphilis Test
Read about the details of each type of Syphilis test here.