Rapid tests for syphilis

About syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium, Treponema pallidum. Syphilis is one of the several possible causes of genital ulcerative disease (GUD) which may also be caused by HSV, chancroid, or various other infections. Initial infections produce genital ulcers or chancres that appear as raised, painless lesions. It is through direct contact with these ulcers that syphilis is passed from person to person. Syphilis sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum but also can occur on other places on the body such as the fingers or on the lips and in the mouth.

Pregnant women who are infected can pass the disease to their fetuses or newborn infants. A pregnant woman infected with syphilis, has a high risk of having miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths, or death of newborn babies. Untreated babies with congenital syphilis can have deformities, delays in development, or seizures along with many other problems such as rashes, fever, swollen liver and spleen, anemia, and jaundice. Also any sores on infected babies are themselves infectious. An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems in the future.

GUDs, such as syphilis, cause breaks in the skin or mucous membranes and disrupt the natural barriers that provide protection against infections. The genital ulcers caused by syphilis can bleed easily, and when they come into contact with oral and rectal mucosa during sex, increase the infectiousness of, and susceptibility to, HIV. There is an estimated two- to five-fold increased risk of getting infected with HIV when syphilis is present. Substantial biological evidence shows the increased likelihood that getting and transmitting HIV is linked to the presence of STIs.

Syphilis can be easily treated with antibiotic therapy. If the infection remains untreated, however, syphilis may eventually cause long-term, debilitating effects that are potentially fatal.

Links to more information