Sexually Transmitted Disease – Syphilis and Lab Test

Syphilis is a broad systemic disease caused by a bacteria called Treponema Pallidum. This disease is  subdivided into an early and late stage.

Signs and Symptoms

Early stage

In the earliest stage, a raised round and pink painless ulcer appears about 3 weeks after the infection. The incubation period can vary from 9-90 days. The ulcer is usually single, located on the outer genitals and accompanied by bilateral, non tender, rubbery enlarged lymph nodes near the genitals. This ulcer resolves in 3-8 weeks without any treatment, but it  reappears again as secondary syphilis.

Secondary Syphilis presents with fever, headache and joint pain, also there may be generalized, non irritating rash which is initially flat, then raised and round. This is called a condylomata lata which appears on the external genitals, anus and under the breasts. There may be generalized painless enlarged lymph nodes, eye infection, hepatitis, and nervous system disorders.

If this stage is left untreated, then secondary syphilis can last for up to 2 years during which time the person is infectious.

Late stage

3rd degree syphilis is characterized by inflammation of the skin, bones, organs and mucus membranes. The last stage of syphilis is characterized by neurological and cardiovascular disease.

Syphilis and pregnancy

When pregnant with syphilis, there are risks of abortion, premature labor, growth retardation of the baby and even death. Babies that are born alive will suffer from congenital syphilis which is characterized by corneal scarring of the eye, nerve deafness, and notched permanent incisor teeth.

Lab tests

  • Dark ground microscopy for primary and secondary stages reveals the organism in body fluids.
  • VDRL, TPHA, FTA are other tests that can be done.


Penicillin is the antibiotic used to treat syphilis, its usually injected in to the muscles daily for 10 -14 days.


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