Syphilis is a highly infectious sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. It is estimated that 12 million new cases of syphilis emerge each year, with over 30,000 new cases in the U.S. alone.
The diagnosis of syphilis is simple, and the treatment is quick and effective, but the disease can go undiagnosed due to its wide range of nonspecific symptoms. Since the infection is usually asymptomatic, or symptomless, most people don’t know whether or not they are infected. Luckily, today, testing for syphilis and other STDs at home with testing kits has never been easier or more discreet.
Our top recommended tests:
You have many testing options to screen for syphilis and other STDs. You can visit your primary doctor or your local STD clinic. However, the most convenient and discreet method of testing is simply ordering a test kit online and taking the test in the comfort and privacy of your own home. We have evaluated and reviewed over ten direct-to-consumer STD testing companies. Below are our top three recommended companies.
Aside from choosing which test to order, you have one other question to consider. Do you want to test for only syphilis, or many of the most common STDs at once?
If you have a specific reason to believe you were only exposed to syphilis, then you can save some money only testing for one STD. However, if you suspect you might have been exposed to a number of STDs and want peace of mind, we highly recommend just purchasing a more comprehensive STD test. For each of the top providers we list, we give information on both syphilis-only tests (when available) and a more comprehensive testing option.
myLAB Box is an innovative company that was founded in 2014 to make screening for STDs easier, less expensive, and more private. We are big fans of myLAB Box for many reasons. First, unlike some of the other highly regarded testing companies, myLAB Box focuses on STD screening only–and it does it well. We also appreciate how the company gives Innerbody readers 20% off on all its tests (enter the coupon code INNERBODY20 upon checkout).
If you are looking for a syphilis-only test, our top choice is the Syphilis Home Test. This test is relatively inexpensive. It takes less than five minutes to collect your sample, and you will have your results back in a few business days.
If you are looking for a more comprehensive test, then we would go with the Uber Box 8. This package tests for syphilis, HIV (I&II), chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, trichomoniasis, and herpes. These eight STDs together account for over 80% of all the STDs in the United States.
Here is a short explainer video produced by myLAB Box:
Everlywell is one of the largest at-home testing companies online today. It offers a huge assortment of tests, including tests in the “Sexual Health” category. Everlywell generously offers our readers 15% off on all tests (enter the coupon code INNERBODY15 upon checkout).
If you are looking for a syphilis-only test, you will want to go with Everlywell’s cleverly named Syphilis Test.
If you are looking for a more comprehensive test, go with either the STD Test - Female or the STD Test - Male. Both of these tests screen for seven of the most common STDs, including syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, trichomoniasis, and herpes (type II).
What is the difference between the two tests, you might ask? The only difference is the sample collection method: a urine sample for the male test and a vaginal swab for the female version.
LetsGetChecked is a leader in at-home testing, and we didn’t want to leave it out of this list of your options. The company does not offer a stand-alone syphilis test as far as we know. But it does offer a wide variety of comprehensive STD tests that include screening for syphilis. Like the other testing companies, LetsGetChecked offers our readers 20% off all tests (enter the coupon code INNERBODY at checkout).
We can highly recommend both the Standard 5 Test and the Complete 10 Test. Both of these include screening for syphilis. Below is a handy chart that summarizes which STDs are included in all four of LetsGetChecked’s STD test packages.
|Complete 10||Standard 5||Basic 3||Simple 2|
|Current Price||See latest||See latest||See latest||See latest|
|Herpes Simplex (I&II)|
Syphilis does not always present symptoms. However, if symptoms are present, they tend to be genital ulcers accompanied by a fever.
Early symptoms of syphilis (primary syphilis)
- A syphilitic ulcer called a chancre appears around three weeks after exposure, and it will disappear within a few weeks
- The chancre is usually found on the genitals or around the anus, and sometimes around the mouth, or on the lips or fingers
- This sore is infectious, but may not be visible if it is inside the anus or vagina
- The ulcer will be small and painless, and often goes unnoticed
- Usually, only one ulcer is present, but sometimes more can appear
Later symptoms of syphilis (secondary syphilis)
- A rough red blotchy rash on the palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet
- Small skin growths, similar in appearance to genital warts, around the anus, and/or on the vulva
- White patches in the mouth
- General flu-like symptoms including fever, fatigue, headaches, joint pains, and swollen glands in the neck, armpits, and/or groin
The symptoms of secondary syphilis will usually progress and pass within several weeks. After this stage of infection, syphilis can lie dormant for up to 30 years. During this time, some symptoms may flare up but are often mistaken for flu. Eventually, the disease returns as tertiary syphilis.
Treponema pallidum is a blood-borne spiral-shaped (spirochete) bacteria, and it can be transmitted to people who come in contact with a syphilitic sore or rash.
The bacteria spreads to a new host via “microabrasions,” or microscopic cuts or tears in the skin, or directly penetrates the mucous membrane. Once inside the body, the bacteria attaches to the host cells and starts to multiply under the skin. The bacteria uses its spiral shape to propel itself, and it spreads through the blood and lymphatic system, penetrating further into the body tissues and across blood vessel barriers. This penetration and further multiplication causes damage to these areas and results in the symptoms present during later stage syphilis.
The immune system attempts to fight back by producing anti-treponemal antibodies, but the bacteria is able to go largely undetected by the body, giving syphilis a reputation as the “stealth bacteria.” Eventually, these antibodies force the bacteria into a dormant period known as latency.
The bacteria can cause serious problems during early stages of the disease, if it spreads to the central nervous system (neurosyphilis).
Pregnant women who have a syphilis infection are at risk of serious complications with their pregnancy, and the birth and health of their infant. Syphilis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or disease resulting in developmental delay, seizures, and physical deformities.
Approximately one third of these babies will be born without the disease. However, a third will be born with congenital syphilis, and a third will be miscarried, stillborn, or die shortly after birth.
Syphilis and HIV
The genital sores and increased HIV-target cells caused by syphilis increase the risk of transmitting and contracting a HIV infection. If syphilis and HIV are present in the same individual, it is estimated that it is two to five times more likely that the HIV infection will be transmitted. For this reason, people with syphilis are usually also tested for HIV.
Syphilis is easily curable if detected in the earliest stages. Just a single injection of penicillin will stop the disease if the infection has been present for less than a year. Additional doses may be required if the disease has progressed, though penicillin remains the preferred treatment for the disease at all stages.
Once treated, the bacteria is eliminated from the body. However, tissue and organ damage caused by the bacteria may be permanent. Exposure to the bacteria does not provide immunity, and repeat infection is possible.
After treatment for syphilis, periodic blood tests are carried out to ensure the bacteria is responding to the dosage of penicillin. It is advised that sexual contact be avoided until the end of treatment, and that sexual partners be notified that they may have been exposed to syphilis.