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Syphilis in adults
  1. B T Goh
  1. Correspondence to:
 Beng T Goh
 The Ambrose King Centre, The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London E1 1BB, UK; beng.goh{at}


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease with protean manifestations resulting from infection by Treponema pallidum. It is systemic early from the outset, the primary pathology being vasculitis. Acquired syphilis can be divided into primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary stages. The infection can also be transmitted vertically resulting in congenital syphilis, and occasionally by blood transfusion and non-sexual contact. Diagnosis is mainly by dark field microscopy in early syphilis and by serological tests. The management in the tropics depends on the diagnostic facilities available: in resource poor countries, primary syphilis is managed syndromically as for anogenital ulcer. The introduction of rapid “desktop” serological tests may simplify and promote widespread screening for syphilis. The mainstay of treatment is with long acting penicillin. Syphilis promotes the transmission of HIV and both infections can simulate and interact with each other. Treponemes may persist despite effective treatment and may have a role in reactivation in immunosuppressed patients. Partner notification, health education, and screening in high risk populations and pregnant women to prevent congenital syphilis are essential aspects in controlling the infection.

  • DFA, direct fluorescent antibody
  • DFM, dark field microscopy
  • EIA, enzyme immunoassay
  • GUD, genital ulcerative diseases
  • PCR, polymerase chain reaction
  • RPR, rapid plasma reagin
  • TPPA, Treponema pallidum particle agglutination
  • VDRL, Venereal Disease Research Laboratory
  • syphilis
  • adults
  • Treponema pallidum
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