Specific syphilis serological tests may become negative in HIV infection

AIDS. 1991 Apr;5(4):419-23. doi: 10.1097/00002030-199104000-00010.


The diagnosis of syphilis is frequently dependent upon the results of serological tests, but the reliability of syphilis serology in patients with HIV-1 infection has been questioned. We examined specific antibody to Treponema pallidum (TP) using the TP haemagglutination (TPHA) and fluorescent treponemal antibody-absorption (FTA-ABS) tests in AIDS patients and HIV-antibody-negative controls with a history of syphilis. Tests were carried out on two sera separated by an interval of at least 3 years from each patient. Twelve out of 29 AIDS patients compared with four out of 29 controls showed significant falls in titres of specific antibody as measured by the TPHA, FTA-ABS, or by both the TPHA and FTA-ABS (P = 0.02). Furthermore, in three out of 29 (10%) of the AIDS patients with past syphilis infections both the TPHA and FTA-ABS became non-reactive. We conclude that negative specific serology does not exclude a past syphilis infection in patients with AIDS.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications*
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / immunology
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • HIV Seropositivity / diagnosis
  • HIV-1*
  • Hemagglutination Tests
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Syphilis / diagnosis*
  • Syphilis / immunology
  • Syphilis Serodiagnosis
  • Treponema pallidum / immunology


  • Antibodies, Bacterial