Syphilis Tests Often Wrong

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just announced that a study of five U.S. labs found that hundreds of patients who were told they had syphilis did not have the dangerous, sexually transmitted disease, reports The Associated Press (AP).

The <"">defective syphilis test has been in use since the 1980s, said the AP, which noted that the defective medical tests resulted in about 18 percent false positives. Previously, experts believed there would be false positives with this testing method, but with much lower frequency: About seven percent.

The CDC now recommends that additional testing be conducted when this test provides a positive syphilis result; however, research indicates that regardless of the outcomes, people have been unnecessarily stressed with the original findings and some have received treatment that could come with potential side effects, wrote the AP, pointing to a serious Product Liability issue. Meanwhile, syphilis tests are recommended for all pregnant women and anyone at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, added the AP.

The CDC does not know how widespread the problem with the defective medical device is versus a more traditional testing method that is also in use, said the AP. The so-called “problematic” test is cheaper and “It doesn’t miss people who are infected,” said Dr. Karen Hoover, a CDC epidemiologist who co-authored the study, quoted the AP. But, the issue is that the test cannot differentiate syphilis antibodies from other blood proteins, so it can give a positive syphilis result for something that is not syphilis, the CDC said, wrote the AP.

About 14,000 Americans have been diagnosed with the most contagious form of syphilis, and numbers are on the rise, said the AP, which noted that these cases involved confirmed results and are not included in the false positive figures. The research appears in this week’s CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at:

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that syphilis is an infection with the bacteria Treponema pallidum, and is a sexually-transmitted infectious disease that is spread through broken skin or mucous membranes. Syphilis can be passed from pregnant mothers to their developing fetuses via congenital syphilis.

Syphilis symptoms depend on in what stage of the disease the patient is; however, many people do not present with symptoms, said NCBI. Typically, painless sores and swollen lymph nodes are potentially present in primary syphilis. Secondary syphilis can cause fever, fatigue, rash, aches and pains, and loss of appetite, to name just some. The worst stage, tertiary syphilis, leads to heart, brain, and nervous system problems, noted the NCBI.

Antibiotics are generally prescribed for syphilis; penicillin is the traditional antibiotic course of treatment. Dose and delivery (vein or muscle) are dependent on the stage; docycycline is sometimes used as a penicillin alternative.

Reactions during initial treatment for early stages of syphilis include Jarish-Herxheimer reaction which can cause: Chills; fever; general ill feelings, joint aches, and muscle aches; headache, nausea, and rash.

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