Are Treponema pallidum specific rapid and point-of-care tests for syphilis accurate enough for screening in resource limited settings? Evidence from a meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e54695. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054695. Epub 2013 Feb 26.


Background: Rapid and point-of-care (POC) tests for syphilis are an invaluable screening tool, yet inadequate evaluation of their diagnostic accuracy against best reference standards limits their widespread global uptake. To fill this gap, a systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of rapid and POC tests in blood and serum samples against Treponema pallidum (TP) specific reference standards.

Methods: Five electronic databases (1980-2012) were searched, data was extracted from 33 articles, and Bayesian hierarchical models were fit.

Results: In serum samples, against a TP specific reference standard point estimates with 95% credible intervals (CrI) for the sensitivities of popular tests were: i) Determine, 90.04% (80.45, 95.21), ii) SD Bioline, 87.06% (75.67, 94.50), iii) VisiTect, 85.13% (72.83, 92.57), and iv) Syphicheck, 74.48% (56.85, 88.44), while specificities were: i) Syphicheck, 99.14% (96.37, 100), ii) Visitect, 96.45% (91.92, 99.29), iii) SD Bioline, 95.85% (89.89, 99.53), and iv) Determine, 94.15% (89.26, 97.66). In whole blood samples, sensitivities were: i) Determine, 86.32% (77.26, 91.70), ii) SD Bioline, 84.50% (78.81, 92.61), iii) Syphicheck, 74.47% (63.94, 82.13), and iv) VisiTect, 74.26% (53.62, 83.68), while specificities were: i) Syphicheck, 99.58% (98.91, 99.96), ii) VisiTect, 99.43% (98.22, 99.98), iii) SD Bioline, 97.95%(92.54, 99.33), and iv) Determine, 95.85% (92.42, 97.74).

Conclusions: Rapid and POC treponemal tests reported sensitivity and specificity estimates comparable to laboratory-based treponemal tests. In resource limited settings, where access to screening is limited and where risk of patients lost to follow up is high, the introduction of these tests has already been shown to improve access to screening and treatment to prevent stillbirths and neonatal mortality due to congenital syphilis. Based on the evidence, it is concluded that rapid and POC tests are useful in resource limited settings with poor access to laboratories or screening for syphilis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Health Resources
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Point-of-Care Systems* / standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Workers
  • Syphilis / diagnosis*
  • Syphilis / epidemiology
  • Treponema pallidum*