Quick and Easy Syphilis Test in Plymouth, MN

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FAQs

Syphilis Test

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is spread through anal, oral, and vaginal sex. An infected individual spreads the Treponema pallidum bacterium, which enters the body through the vagina, anus, or mouth. It cannot be spread through sharing utensils, clothing, or restroom surfaces with someone who has been infected.

Once the infecting bacteria enters the body, it progresses through stages of infection which are detailed below:

- Primary syphilis: This first stage of infection occurs within 2-3 weeks after exposure. The first sign of infection is usually a small sore that appears on the genitals or mouth called a chancre. Some people only develop one of these sores, while others develop several. A chancre is usually painless and may be undetectable if it appears in the anus or vagina. This sore will go away within a few weeks on its own.

- Secondary syphilis: After several weeks of the chancre healing, a rash will begin to appear on the torso or on your hands and feet. This rash frequently spreads, resulting in dry and bumpy skin all over the body. During this stage of the infection, you may experience fatigue, muscle aches, fever, and a sore throat.

- Latent syphilis: If syphilis goes untreated, it will move into the latent stage of infection. During this time, you may experience no symptoms, even though you are still carrying the infectious bacteria. Despite not showing signs of the infection for years, the Treponema pallidum bacterium may damage your bones, heart, brain, nerves, and eyes.

- Tertiary syphilis: About ⅓ of individuals who have untreated syphilis progress to the late stage of the infection, known as tertiary syphilis. This occurs after years of infection and results in severe medical conditions such as brain damage, heart disease, nerve damage, mobility loss, vision loss, and tumors.

Pregnant women who have not been treated for syphilis may pass the infection to their babies during birth. This can lead to cause serious - sometimes lethal - health problems for both the mother and child.

Nearly 80,000 cases of syphilis are diagnosed in the United States every year. Risk factors for contracting syphilis include:


  • Unprotected sex (not using a condom)
  • Sex with multiple partners
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Are infected with other sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS

How do doctors test for syphilis?

Syphilis is diagnosed through blood testing. Because symptoms may not show up - especially in the early stages of the infection - lab tests are required to definitively detect the condition. The blood tests most commonly used to diagnose syphilis are detailed below:

- Rapid plasma reagin (RPR): This blood test checks the blood for the presence of syphilis antibodies. These proteins are produced by the body to combat a foreign substance - such as the syphilis bacteria. The presence of syphilis antibodies may indicate an infection.

- Venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL): This test also checks the blood for the presence of syphilis antibodies.

How do I prepare for a syphilis test?

If your doctor has ordered a blood test for syphilis, no specific preparation is needed. However, some doctors elect to perform a lumbar puncture (drawing of spinal fluid) to submit spinal fluid for the testing detailed above. If your doctor has requested a lumbar puncture to test for syphilis, you may be asked to empty your bowels and bladder prior to the procedure.

What happens during a syphilis test?

Syphilis testing can be performed at a primary care clinic. If your doctor has elected to test your blood, a small needle will be inserted into your arm to draw blood from the veins in the forearm. You may feel a slight sting or pinch as the needle is inserted, but this pain is generally short-lived.

After the appropriate amount of blood has been drawn and deposited into a test tube, the needle will be removed, the puncture site cleaned and bandaged, and your blood will be sent to the lab for testing.

Advanced cases of syphilis may require a test of spinal fluid drawn from the back. For this test, you will be asked to sit or lie on your side on an examination table. Your doctor will apply a numbing gel to the back and inject anesthesia into the skin of the back to minimize pain felt during the procedure. Once the area is totally numb, a thin, hollow needle will be inserted in between the vertebrae of the spine. After the needle has been inserted between these bones, your doctor will draw a small amount of spinal fluid from the area. This takes around 5 minutes. Afterward, the puncture site will be cleaned and bandaged.

You may be asked to remain on your back for an hour or two to prevent headaches or adverse side effects. Your doctor will offer direction about whether or not this should be done at the clinic or at home.

Neither of these tests requires sedation, so you are usually cleared to go home after the exam. If you have had spinal fluid drawn from your back, you may be asked to stay at the clinic for an hour or so to prevent any side effects.

You should hear back from your primary care provider regarding your results within a day or two. If you have not heard from your doctor after 3-5 days, get in touch with the clinic to ask about the status of your test.

Will I need a follow-up appointment for my syphilis test?

Follow-up testing may be required to definitively diagnose syphilis. The antibodies tested in the exams detailed above may be produced without the presence of syphilis bacteria. Because of this, your doctor may request a second blood test to confirm a positive (meaning you likely have been infected with the bacteria) or negative (no evidence of bacterial infection) result.

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis is treated with a course of an antibiotic, usually penicillin. When treated early, syphilis is very effectively treated with penicillin. If the disease has moved into later stages, additional doses of the medication may be needed through injection.

Even if the chancer or other symptoms of syphilis begin to go away, it is important that you finish the entire course of your medication. The bacteria that causes the infection can recur if not treated completely, so it is important that you continue your prescription even if you begin to feel better.

After you have been treated with penicillin, your doctor may order a blood test to ensure that you have been cured of the infection. Practice safe sex using a latex condom to prevent future infections or spreading the infection to sexual partners.