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The Venereal Disease Research Laboratory test (VDRL) is a blood test for syphilis that was developed by the eponymous lab. The VDRL test is used to screen for syphilis (it has high sensitivity), whereas other, more specific tests are used to diagnose the disease.
The VDRL type test was invented before World War I, with its first iteration being that developed by August Paul von Wasserman with the aid of Albert Neisser in 1906. The VDRL test, as it is largely still done today, was developed in 1946 by Harris, Rosenberg, and Riedel. The lab was renamed to the Treponemal Pathogenesis and Immunology Branch of the United States Public Health Service.
The VDRL is a nontreponemal serological screening for syphilis that is also used to assess response to therapy, to detect central nervous system involvement, and as an aid in the diagnosis of congenital syphilis. The basis of the test is that an antibody produced by a patient with syphilis reacts with an extract of ox heart (diphosphatidyl glycerol). It therefore detects anti-cardiolipin antibodies (IgG, IgM or IgA), visualized through foaming of the test tube fluid, or “flocculation”.
The rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test uses the same antigen as the VDRL, but in that test, it has been bound to several other molecules, including a carbon particle to allow visualization of the flocculation reaction without the need of a microscope.
Many other medical conditions can produce false positive results, including some viruses (mononucleosis, hepatitis), drugs, pregnancy, rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and leprosy.
The syphilis anti-cardiolipin antibodies are beta-2 glycoprotein independent, whereas those that occur in the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (associated to lupus for example) are beta-2 glycoprotein dependent, and this can be used to tell them apart in an ELISA assay. This test is very useful as the trend of titres are correlated to disease activity (i.e. falling titres indicate successful treatment). It has a very good sensitivity for syphilis, except in late tertiary form.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The signs and symptoms of syphilis vary depending in which of the four stages it presents (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary). The primary stage classically presents with a single chancre (a firm, painless, non-itchy skin ulceration usually between 1 cm and 2 cm in diameter) though there may be multiple sores. In secondary syphilis, a diffuse rash occurs, which frequently involves the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. There may also be sores in the mouth or vagina. In latent syphilis, which can last for years, there are few or no symptoms. In tertiary syphilis, there are gummas (soft, non-cancerous growths), neurological problems, or heart symptoms. Syphilis has been known as “the great imitator” as it may cause symptoms similar to many other diseases.
Syphilis is most commonly spread through sexual activity. It may also be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis.Other diseases caused by the Treponema bacteria include yaws (subspecies pertenue), pinta (subspecies carateum), and nonvenereal endemic syphilis (subspecies endemicum). These three diseases are not typically sexually transmitted. Diagnosis is usually made by using blood tests; the bacteria can also be detected using dark field microscopy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.) recommend all pregnant women be tested.
The risk of sexual transmission of syphilis can be reduced by using a latex or polyurethane condom. Syphilis can be effectively treated with antibiotics.The preferred antibiotic for most cases is benzathine benzylpenicillin injected into a muscle. In those who have a severe penicillin allergy, doxycycline or tetracycline may be used. In those with neurosyphilis, intravenous benzylpenicillin or ceftriaxone is recommended.During treatment people may develop fever, headache, and muscle pains, a reaction known as Jarisch–Herxheimer.
In 2015, about 45.4 million people were infected with syphilis,with 6 million new cases. During 2015, it caused about 107,000 deaths, down from 202,000 in 1990. After decreasing dramatically with the availability of penicillin in the 1940s, rates of infection have increased since the turn of the millennium in many countries, often in combination with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This is believed to be partly due to increased promiscuity, prostitution, decreasing use of condoms, and unsafe sexual practices among men who have sex with men. In 2015, Cuba became the first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis