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NIAID Research on Syphilis

Developing better ways to diagnose and treat syphilis is an important research goal of scientists supported by NIAID.

Scientists are developing new tests that may provide better ways to diagnose syphilis and define the stage of infection. Efforts to develop a diagnostic test that would not require a blood sample are a high priority. For example, researchers are evaluating tests using saliva and urine to see whether they would work as well as blood tests. Researchers are also trying to develop other diagnostic tests for detecting infection in babies.

Searching for a Syphilis Vaccine

In an effort to stem the spread of syphilis, scientists are conducting research that could lead to the development of a vaccine. Molecular biologists are learning more about the various surface parts of the syphilis bacterium which stimulate the immune system to respond to it.

Developing Easier, Safer Treatments

Another research priority is to develop a safe, effective, single-dose oral antibiotic for syphilis. In 2010, a clinical trial found that antibiotic pills (azithromycin) are as effective as penicillin injections for curing early-stage syphilis. Azithromycin may give healthcare providers a good alternative for treating HIV-negative people with early-stage syphilis. This is especially important in settings where resources are limited because penicillin injections can cause allergic reactions and the drug must be refrigerated and given by trained personnel.

Syphilis Genome Offers New Clues

NIAID-funded researchers have also sequenced the genetic blueprint, or genome, of the bacterium that causes syphilis. The DNA sequence represents an encyclopedia of information about the bacterium. Researchers have identified clues in the genome that may help better diagnose, treat, and vaccinate against syphilis.

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Last Updated October 27, 2014