Syphilis Testing in Northern California Kaiser

Jennifer Shieh, MS, CLS

March 2009

 Q&A Archive



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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. A number of laboratory test methods are used to aid in syphilis diagnosis. Some of these diagnostic techniques-microscopy, direct fluorescence antibody staining, and molecular detection—have drawbacks including non-specificity, specialized staining techniques, and high costs.

Blood testing for antibodies to T. pallidum , on the other hand, can suggest infection and is inexpensive and relatively simple to perform. Shortly after infection occurs, the body produces syphilis antibodies that will likely stay in the blood for months or years even after the disease has been successfully treated. Because untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman can infect and possibly kill her developing baby, every pregnant woman should have a blood test for syphilis. 

When blood tests for T. pallidum are automated on modern diagnostic analyzers, clinical labs can be better prepared to take an active role in supporting this kind of community health care. Join Jen Shieh, MS, CLS, Test Development Scientist at Kaiser Permanente TPMG Regional Lab in Berkeley, CA, as she outlines the state-of-the-art syphilis testing program at her facility.


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