BackgroundSyphilis screening of blood donors is a common practice worldwide, but very little is known about the meaning of a positive serologic test for syphilis in blood donors and the risk profile of these donors. The aim of this study was to determine the demographic characteristics and risk behaviors of blood donors with recent and past syphilis and their implications for blood bank testing and deferral strategies.
Study design and methodsDemographic characteristics, category of donation, number of previous donations, sexual behavior, and history of sexually transmitted diseases were reviewed comparing blood donors with recent and past syphilis from January 1, 1999, to December 31, 2003.
ResultsA total of 2439 interviews were reviewed, including 2161 (88.6%) donors with past and 278 (11.4%) with recent syphilis infection. Factors associated with recent infection included younger age (< or = 20 years odds ratio [OR], 36.5; 95% confidence interval [CI], 15.8-84.1), two previous donations (OR, 2.7; 95% CI, 1.9-3.9), male-male sex (homosexual OR, 8.2; 95% CI, 3.2-20.8; and bisexual OR, 11.4; 95% CI, 3.6-36.3), two or more partners in the past 12 months (OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.3-4.0), symptoms for syphilis (OR, 4.5; 95% CI, 2.8-7.1), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) seropositivity (OR, 39.6; 95% CI, 4.6-339.8). Community donors were also associated with recent syphilis infection (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2-1.9) compared to replacement donors.
ConclusionSexual history, including male-male sex and multiple partners, were strongly associated with recent syphilis infection, which in turn was strongly associated with HIV. Continuous and vigilant surveillance that includes assessing sexual history and other factors associated with syphilis are needed to guide blood safety policies.