Syphilis test

Syphilis was once a disease of epidemic proportions. Today, it is effectively treated with penicillin and other antibiotics. Because there is no known immunization to protect against contracting syphilis, accurate testing has become a key determinant for quick and successful treatment.

Discovery of the Bacteria

In 1903 Russian biologist Elie Metchnikoff (1845-1916) and French scientist Pierre-Paul-Emile Roux demonstrated that syphilis could be transmitted to monkeys. With this capability, the disease could be studied in the laboratory. Two years later, German zoologist Fritz Schaudinn and his assistant Erich Hoffmann isolated the bacterium that causes syphilis. Schaudinn and Hoffmann showed it to be a spiral-shaped spirochete called Treponema pallidum.


In 1904 German researcher Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) and Japanese bacteriologist Sahachiro Hata began looking for a safe, effective treatment for syphilis. They tested hundreds of derivatives of atoxyl, eventually discovering one that worked. Ehrlich called the derivative "Salvarsan." Following trials of the substance on humans, Ehrlich and Hata announced in 1911 that the drug was an effective cure for syphilis. The drug attacked the bacteria without harming healthy cells.

Wassermann Test

The first effective test for syphilis was developed in 1906 by German physician and bacteriologist August von Wassermann (1866-1925). Wassermann was influenced by Ehrlich's work. Wassermann's exam consisted of testing a patient's blood sample for the syphilis bacterium antibody. If antibodies were present, the test was positive. If the antibodies disappeared after treatment, the test was negative. The Wassermann test proved successful in diagnosing syphilis in 95 percent of cases.

Kahn Test

Unfortunately, the Wassermann test required a two-day incubation period. Reuben Leon Kahn (1887-1979), a Russian-born American immunologist, developed a faster and simpler syphilis test in 1923. This modified test used an extract from beef heart to detect syphilis antibodies. More sensitive than the Wassermann test, the Kahn test could be completed in a matter of minutes. The Kahn tests, however, could also be inaccurate. It could show false positive or false negative reports.

Davies-Hinton Test

Another effective syphilis test was developed by William A. Hinton (1883-1959). Hinton was an African-American physician who became a leading expert on venereal disease. Hinton worked out of Harvard Medical School, collaborating with J. A. V. Davies on the Davies-Hinton test.


Syphilis is a serious disease transmitted through sexual activity. Although modern treatments can control the disease, the number of people suffering from syphilis remains high. It is a public health concern around the world.

Syphilis can be cured through doses of penicillin, yet many people remain untreated. The first stage appears between one and eight weeks after infection occurs. The symptom is a small, hard, painless swelling, called a primary chancre (pronounced "shanker"). The sore usually heals in one to five weeks. However, during this period, disease bacteria circulate throughout the body via the bloodstream.

The second stage appears about six weeks after the sore disappears. Symptoms include a general feeling of being ill, fever, headache, and a loss of appetite. Glands may swell in the groin or neck, and a skin rash may develop. This second stage can last two to six weeks.

The third stage is called latent or late syphilis. It can last for years. While no symptoms may be present for some time, a special blood test will show the presence of the disease. During this stage, the disease will eventually flare up without warning. Syphilis affects both the brain and heart. At this point, the disease is no longer treatable. Symptoms of third stage syphilis include blindness, sterility, and insanity.


Several other syphilis tests have been developed. One of most widely used tests today is the VDRL test, designed by the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory. Other diagnostic tools include a fluorescent antibody test to reveal the syphilis bacterium.

User Contributions:

Latent syphilis is the third stage that is asymptomatic and non infectious. Can have relapses into the secondary stage.

Late or Tertiary syphilis usually occurs 3-10 years after primary infection. granulomas appear at this stage.
Kamwine Aaron
My penis is swelling and has wounds on it which leads to discharge of pus that comes seasonal. I have spent 23 years with this problem but when i went for RPR testing i was told am negative. Should i go for syphillis treatment? because i have also skin rashes itching me. thank you
Ofosuhene Frank
A friend of mine has got syphilis for more than five years. Is it curable at this stage?

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