A variety of serologic tests for syphilis are available, including:
VDRL (Venereal Disease Research Laboratory)
RPR (Rapid Plasma Reagin)
FTA-ABS (Fluorescent Treponemal Antibody Absorption)
TP-MHA (Treponema Pallidum Microhemagglutination Assay)
Each differs the others in the precise substance being measured,
complexity, and specificity. All are satisfactory for use in managing
syphilis. Abnormals may be:
Weakly reactive, or
Whenever a screening test (RPR, VDRL) is positive, a more specific test (FTA-ABS,
TP-MHA) should be used to confirm the test and rule out a "biologic
A negative or "nonreactive" test may indicate:
The patient doesn't have syphilis
The patient has syphilis, but is so early in the course of the disease
that the test has not yet turned positive. In these cases, the test may
never turn positive if the patient is effectively treated.
The patient had primary syphilis, had a positive test, was effectively
treated, 6 months have passed and the test has now reverted back to
The patient had secondary syphilis, had a positive test, was
effectively treated, 12-18 months have passed and the test has now
reverted back to negative.
The patient has syphilis, but his/her immune system is impaired.
A positive or "reactive" test may indicate:
The patient has syphilis.
The patient had syphilis, was effectively treated, but the test has
not yet returned to negative:
With primarily syphilis, it typically takes about 6 months for the
test to turn negative.
With secondary syphilis, it typically takes 12-18 months for the
test to turn negative.
The longer syphilis remains untreated, the longer it will take for
the test to return to normal, and the less likely it is to ever
return to normal.
The patient has a biologic false positive (BFP)
|Serologic Test for Syphilis
*These are general values taken from a variety of
sources. The actual normal values may vary from lab to lab and from one
type of testing protocol to another.
Darkfield View of Spirochetes
Operational Medicine 2001, Health
Care in Military Settings, NAVMED P-5139, May 1, 2001, Bureau
of Medicine and Surgery, Department
of the Navy, 2300 E Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20372-5300
Introductory Obstetrics & Gynecology
© 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008
Medical Education Division,
Brookside Associates, Ltd.
All rights reserved
Other Brookside Products