Patients and Caregivers

Infectious Disease

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that affected approximately 36,000 people in the United States in 2006.1 An increased prevalence has been seen in southern regions and in urban areas. In 2001, the Center for Disease Control issued a plan to eliminate syphilis from the United States. A recent update of the plan shows the focus of the organization is on the populations most affected, heterosexual minorities and more recently men who have sex with men.

For more information on the initiative to eliminate syphilis:

The disease is caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. It is a disease that can be diagnosed in a number of stages and when left untreated can lead to cardiovascular and neurological disorders.

There are a number of testing procedures available for use in the detection and confirmation of syphilis infection which are separated into 2 main categories: non-treponemal, which includes Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) and Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR), and treponemal tests, FTA-ABS and TP-PA. Regardless of which type of testing method is used, the CDC recommends testing by 2 methods for confirmed diagnosis of syphilis. False-positive results can often occur from non-treponemal tests due to conditions not related to a syphilis infection.2,3

VDRL and RPR are both examples of non-treponemal tests and are often used in the screening of patients for syphilis. False-positive results can occur with these tests as a result of pregnancy, autoimmune disorders and other infections. This leads to the need for confirmatory tests such as the SERODIA® TP-PA, FTA-ABS and EIA syphilis assays. Each of these treponemal assays measures the antibody to T. Pallidum through different detection methods.

  1. STD Surveillance 2006. Division of STD Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
  2. Brown DL, Frank JE. Diagnosis and management of syphilis. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68:283-90.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2006. MMWR 2006;55(No. RR-11):1-93.