Background: Screening for syphilis has been performed for decades, but it is unclear if the practice yields many cases at acceptable cost, and if so, at which venues. We attempted a retrospective study to determine the costs, yield, and feasibility of analyzing health department-funded syphilis outreach screening in 5 diverse US sites with significant disease burdens.
Methods: Data (venue, costs, number of tests, reactive tests, new diagnoses) from 2000 to 2007 were collected for screening efforts funded by public health departments from Philadelphia; New York City; Washington, District of Columbia; Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix); and the state of Florida. Crude cost per new case was calculated.
Results: Screening was conducted in multiple venues including jails, shelters, clubs, bars, and mobile vans. Over the study period, approximately 926 258 tests were performed and 4671 new syphilis cases were confirmed, of which 225 were primary and secondary, and 688 were early latent or high-titer late latent. Jail intake screening consistently identified the largest numbers of new cases (including 67.6% of early and high-titer late-latent cases) at a cost per case ranging from $144 to $3454. Data quality from other venues varied greatly between sites and was often poor.
Conclusions: Though the yield of jail intake screening was good, poor data quality, particularly cost data, precluded accurate cost/yield comparisons at other venues. Few cases of infectious syphilis were identified through outreach screening at any venue. Health departments should routinely collect all cost and testing data for screening efforts so that their yield can be evaluated.