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Demographic determinants of syphilis seroprevalence among U.S. blood donors, 2011-2012.



No cases of transfusion-transmitted syphilis have been described for over four decades. While there is mandatory transfusion screening for syphilis, the absence of transmission is in part ascribed to a low prevalence of syphilis in the blood donor population, the concomitant use of antibiotics in a high proportion of transfusion recipients, allied with poor survival of T. pallidum during refrigerated storage of blood products.


A cross-sectional retrospective data analysis was conducted to ascertain the prevalence of Treponema pallidum antibodies in U.S. blood donors by demography and geography. Routine blood donation testing data and demographics were extracted from the data warehouse of a large network of U.S. blood centers. Crude and adjusted prevalence of T. pallidum antibodies and active syphilis infection were calculated, and GIS mapping was used to illustrate geographic distribution.


The prevalence of T. pallidum seropositivity and active syphilis in first time donors was 162.6 (95% CI 145.5-181.2) per 100,000 donors and 15.8 (95% CI 10.8-22.3) per 100,000 donors, respectively. The odds of T. pallidum seropositivity were significantly elevated in African American (OR = 18.9, 95% CI 14.2-25.2), and Hispanic (OR = 2.8, 95% CI 2.0-3.8) as compared to Caucasian donors. Similarly, the odds of active T. pallidum infections were significantly higher in African American (OR 15.0, 95% CI 7.0-32.3) and Hispanic (OR = 5.8, 95% CI 2.9-11.6) as compared to Caucasian donors. Syphilis seropositivity was associated with first time blood donation, increasing age, lower education, birth outside the US, and positive tests for HIV and HCV. Geographically, T. pallidum seropositivity was increased in southern and western regions of the US.


Given the low seroprevalence of syphilis in blood donors, continued screening remains debatable; however it may provide a public health benefit through surveillance of at-risk populations.

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