Syphilis guide

Syphilis testing


How do I get tested for syphilis?

We make getting testing for syphilis simple. We offer the Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR) blood test that looks for antibodies that are present in the blood of people who are infected with the bacteria. The RPR With Reflex to Quantitative RPR and Confirmation test is easy and safe (no undressing or swabbing required!)...and it's the most accurate and reliable syphilis test available today. Sometimes, an RPR can be positive in a person without syphilis...so we always follow up with a confirmatory test.

What syphilis test results mean

A positive test result means that you may have either a past or current, active syphilis infection that – in its earlier stages – can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. A negative test result doesn't necessarily mean that you are free of the bacteria...sometimes the infection, or signs of the infection, don't show up right away.

If you test positive, we're here to help. You'll have the opportunity to consult with a doctor on the phone right away. We'll answer your questions and help you determine the next steps based on your specific circumstances.

Understanding false-positive or false-negative test results

As with most medical tests, there's a slight chance (1-4%) that a positive test result indicates an infection when there isn't one (false-positive); or a test comes back negative, despite the presence of infection (false-negative). For example, a false-negative test result can happen if an infected person tests too early for an infection to be detected...that means it's possible to get a negative test result but still have an STD. And if you test negative but you know that you've definitely been exposed to syphilis, some physicians may recommended that you get treated anyway... just to be safe.

If you're concerned about the reliability of your test results for any reason (e.g., timing, or your sexual history, or your partner's sexual history), we recommend that you get re-tested three months after your possible exposure to the bacteria to confirm your results...and to minimize the risk of being a carrier and potentially developing more serious symptoms down the road.

Learn more about "testing windows" – the recommended amount of time between potential exposure to an STD infection, and when screening is expected to identify the infection (or re-infection); for example, if you had unprotected sex last night and became infected with syphilis, the bacteria wouldn't necessarily show up right away...it could take up to three months to test positive, though often it shows up much earlier. Most specialists agree that the majority of people with syphilis will test positive within six weeks of exposure.

Re-infection

Even if you were treated for syphilis, you could be at risk for re-infection...especially if your partner has not been treated. We recommend that you get tested again to make sure that you haven't been re-infected.

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."