Performance Characteristics of the Reverse Syphilis Screening Algorithm in a Population With a Moderately High Prevalence of Syphilis

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Objectives: With the recent introduction of automated treponemal tests, a new reverse syphilis algorithm has been proposed and now used by many clinical laboratories. We analyzed the impact of instituting the reverse screening syphilis algorithm in a laboratory that serves a geographic area with a moderately high prevalence of syphilis infection.

Methods: Serum samples sent for syphilis testing were tested using a treponemal enzyme immunoassay (EIA) as the screening assay. EIA reactive samples were tested by rapid plasma reagin (RPR) and titered to end point if reactive. RPR nonreactive samples were analyzed by the Treponema pallidum particle agglutination test (TP-PA). Pertinent medical records were reviewed for false-reactive screens and samples with evidence of past syphilis infection.

Results: Among 10,060 patients tested, 502 (5%) were reactive on the initial EIA screen. The RPR was reactive in 150 (1.5%). TP-PA testing determined that 103 (1.0%) were falsely reactive on initial EIA screen. The reverse screening algorithm, however, identified 242 (2.4%) with evidence of latent, secondary, or past syphilis, 21 of whom had no or unknown prior treatment with antibiotics.

Conclusions: Despite a 1.0% false-reactive rate, the reverse syphilis algorithm detected 21 patients with possible latent syphilis that may have gone undetected by traditional syphilis screening.

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