There are three ways to diagnose syphilis.
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms
- Examining blood samples
- Identifying syphilis bacteria under a microscope
The doctor usually uses all these approaches to diagnose syphilis and decide upon the stage of infection.
Blood tests also provide evidence of infection, although they may give false-negative results (not show signs of an infection despite its presence) for up to 3 months after infection. False-positive tests (showing signs of an infection when it is not present) also can occur. Therefore, two blood tests are usually used. Interpretation of blood tests for syphilis can be difficult, and repeated tests are sometimes necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
How Is Syphilis Treated?
Unfortunately, the early symptoms of syphilis can be very mild, and many people do not seek treatment when they first become infected.
Doctors usually treat patients with syphilis with penicillin, given by injection. They use other antibiotics for patients allergic to penicillin. A person usually can no longer transmit syphilis 24 hours after starting treatment. Some people, however, do not respond to the usual doses of penicillin. Therefore, it is important that people being treated for syphilis have periodic blood tests to check that the infectious agent has been completely destroyed.
People with neurosyphilis may need to be retested for up to 2 years after treatment. In all stages of syphilis, proper treatment will cure the disease. But in late syphilis, damage already done to body organs cannot be reversed.
These symptoms may include
- Skin ulcers
- Weakened or hoarse crying sounds
- Swollen liver and spleen
- Yellowish skin (jaundice)
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Various deformities
People who care for infants with congenital syphilis must use special cautions because the moist sores are infectious.
How Can Syphilis Be Prevented?
The open sores of syphilis may be visible and infectious during the active stages of infection. Any contact with these infectious sores and other infected tissues and body fluids must be avoided to prevent spread of the disease. As with many other STDs, using latex male condoms properly during sexual intercourse may give some protection from the disease.
Screening and treatment of infected individuals, or secondary prevention, is one of the few options for preventing the advanced stages of the disease. Testing and treatment early in pregnancy are the best ways to prevent syphilis in infants and should be a routine part of prenatal care.
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