Good Ol’ Syphilis

Today let’s start with the fun stuff.  Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of fun stuff in the Medical Laboratory Science Field but this in particular is my most favorite because it is infectious diseases.  No one likes to have infectious diseases but boy are they fun to know about.   There are many infectious diseases in the world but I will start with a couple of diseases I know best.  For today I will write about Treponema pallidum, also known as good old Syphilis.

What is Syphilis?  Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease or also known as sexually transmitted infection.  It is caused by the organism called Treponema pallidum and it can get pretty nasty.  Syphilis has 4 different stages of infection.  Each stage has a visual symptom except for the latent stage.  Let’s quickly review the symptoms in the stages.  Stage 1:  You get chancre sores in the genital areas and it is possible to see these sores in different parts of your body.  The sores look like craters and they are painless.  Stage 2:  A rash begins to develop first on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and chest and it can spread throughout the body.  Key thing to remember here is that the rash starts in hands, chest and feet.  So if you are out there being careless about your sexual adventures please be careful and look for “The Signs” before you act on your needs.  Moving on, you have the latent stage in which the symptoms go away but can always come back.  Then you have stage 3 in which the person does not have visual symptoms because syphilis is now in your central nervous system doing damage.  At this point the victim may start acting erratic and is also getting some organ damage as well.

In my job it is important to know or at least have an idea of what we are testing for to help us answer questions and help us understand the principle of the tests we perform.  In the syphilis case, there are several test that we perform on blood to screen for Treponema pallidum.  Additionally we also perform confirmatory testing to help us confirm that the results that we get are truly caused by that organism we are looking for.  Some of the screening test performed in the medical laboratory for syphilis are Enzyme Linked Immuno Assay (ELISA), and Treponema Pallidum Particle Agglutination (TPPA).  These test help look for antibodies, what I call “the good guys” that our body builds against the “Foreigner” or “bad guys” in our body called Treponema pallidum.  If the test detects that there are no antibodies, then it is negative and we report that the patient is not infected with syphilis.  Another test that I have performed to detect for syphilis is the Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR).  This test is similar to ELISA and TTPA as far as the test being able to detect an antibody, however in RPR testing we are looking for a substance that mimics the antibody that is only seen in a syphilitic patient also known as the reagin.  Other test that can be performed are Venereal disease research lab (VDRL).  I personally have not used this test but I do know that blood serum is the less preferred sample because it is less sensitive.  The preferred sample using VDRL test is Cerebral Spinal Fluid.  Now with this being said, At what stage of syphilis do you think you would want to use this test?  And the answer is stage 3.  Remember, by stage 3 syphilis has invaded the central nervous system and this means syphilis is in your Cerebral spinal fluid.  This is partially the reason why it is important to know about the diseases.

This concludes my mini version explanation syphilis and its tests.  If anyone is interested in knowing more about anything of what I have written on my blog I will be more than glad to try to explain it please comment or email me.   Until next time!

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