A cost-benefit analysis of California's mandatory premarital screening program for syphilis

West J Med. 1984 Oct;141(4):538-41.


As do most states, California requires premarital serologic tests for syphilis. The Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test and a fluorescent treponemal antibody-absorbed (FTA-ABS) are often used in series for this purpose. In 1979 in California, there were approximately 300,000 persons tested premaritally, but only 35 were found to have asymptomatic infectious syphilis (incidence=0.012%). Including all the direct costs of this screening program, the yearly costs of premarital screening is $8.5 million or almost $240,000 per case found. If one takes into account the sensitivities and specificities of the tests, one still has 6 false-negative and 90 false-positive tests using the 1979 figures. The benefits of the program are the number of cases of congenital syphilis that are prevented. Using a worse-case method, no more than 1.5% of the cases of syphilis detected would result in a case of congenital syphilis. The estimated benefits would result in a savings of approximately $161,000. The economic costs of the premarital screening program far outweigh the benefits.

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Premarital Examinations / economics*
  • Public Health Administration*
  • Syphilis / epidemiology
  • Syphilis / prevention & control*
  • Syphilis, Congenital / prevention & control