New approaches to syphilis control. Finding opportunities for syphilis treatment and congenital syphilis prevention in a women's correctional setting

Sex Transm Dis. 1997 Apr;24(4):218-26. doi: 10.1097/00007435-199704000-00006.


Background: With prostitution and drugs the most common reasons for arrest among New York City (NYC) women, female arrestees are at high risk for acquiring syphilis and delivering congenitally infected babies. Despite routine syphilis screening of all NYC inmates, many are released before the need for treatment is recognized, and once released, few could be found for treatment.

Goals: To improve syphilis treatment rates among female correctional inmates in NYC.

Study design: At a women's correctional health clinic, on-site, rapid, qualitative nontreponemal syphilis testing (STAT rapid plasma reagin [RPR]) and on-line access to the local syphilis case registry were introduced to supplement the usual admission medical evaluation. Treatment decisions made using the authors' jail protocol were compared with treatment criteria used in NYC's sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics. Patients consisted of a consecutive sample of 685 remandees admitted one or more times during the day shift, March 24, 1993, to July 31, 1993, who had a full complement of mandatory admission medical tests. Using the study protocol, syphilis treatment decisions were made and needed treatment was furnished at the end of the admission medical evaluation. The main outcome measures were correct identification and treatment of syphilis in this population, compared with standard NYC Department of Health (DOH) STD clinic practice, as well as the effect of the jail protocol on pregnancy outcomes and need to treat offspring for congenital syphilis.

Results: Compared with NYC DOH STD clinic practice, the study protocol was 95% sensitive and 88% specific in arriving at appropriate treatment for syphilis. Treatment at the end of the admission medical evaluation increased syphilis treatment rates from 7% to 84% of women with indications for treatment and to 88% of pregnant women with indications for treatment. Prospective follow-up for birth outcomes revealed no spontaneous abortions and eight live births. Seven of the eight did not need congenital syphilis treatment because their mothers were adequately treated while incarcerated.

Conclusions: Qualitative (or STAT) RPR testing and access to DOH syphilis case registry data provide prompt and accurate diagnostic information that can lead to an overall increase in the number of inmates appropriately treated (with a minimum amoung of overtreatment) in a women's correctional facility. This protocol may be applicable in other high-risk, transient populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Clinical Protocols / standards
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control*
  • Mass Screening
  • New York City
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prisons*
  • Registries
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Syphilis / prevention & control*
  • Women's Health*