Objectives: A study was conducted to determine the prevalence and health consequences of syphilis and to evaluate existing control measures in a Haitian rural district of 200,000 people served by 12 community dispensaries and Hospital Albert Schweitzer.
Methods: Syphilis seroprevalence among consecutive women receiving antenatal services was assessed using rapid plasma reagin (RPR) screening and fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) confirmatory testing. Hospital and dispensary records were used to review genital ulcer disease and syphilis cases seen during 1995.
Results: Of 811 pregnant women attending prenatal clinics during a 3-month period in 1996, 46 (5.7%) were RPR reactive. Syphilis seroreactivity was confirmed in 45 (97.8%) of 46 samples by FTA-ABS. Of 649 women attending dispensaries in the valley 41 (6.3%) were syphilis seroreactive compared with 4 (2.5%) of 162 women attending dispensaries in the mountains (OR = 2.66; P = 0.056). In 1995, 620 cases of genital ulcer disease were seen at the community dispensaries. At the central hospital, 257 new diagnoses of syphilis were made in 1995, including 30 cases of primary and secondary syphilis, 168 cases of latent disease, 17 cases of recurrent infection, 9 cases of tertiary disease, and 33 cases of congenital syphilis.
Conclusions: The 33 cases of congenital syphilis, a rate of 550 cases for 100,000 live births, clearly demonstrated a failure of local control measures. Decentralized prenatal screening for syphilis, same-day treatment of seroreactors, and strengthened partner treatment were initiated. Further studies to improve primary prevention of syphilis in rural populations have been started. Other strategies, including mass treatment of high-risk groups, should be investigated.