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Syphilis testing practices in the Americas.

OBJECTIVE: To present the findings of the Pan American Health Organization's 2014 survey on syphilis testing policies and practices in the Americas.

METHODS: Representatives of national/regional reference and large, lower-level laboratories from 35 member states were invited to participate. A semi-structured, electronically administered questionnaire collected data on syphilis tests, algorithms, equipment/commodities, challenges faced and basic quality assurance (QA) strategies employed (i.e. daily controls, standard operating procedures, technician training, participating in external QA programmes, on-site evaluations).

RESULTS: The 69 participating laboratories from 30 (86%) member states included 41 (59%) national/regional reference and 28 (41%) lower-level laboratories. Common syphilis tests conducted were the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) (62% of surveyed laboratories), venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) (54%), fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) (41%) and Treponema pallidum haemagglutination assay (TPHA) (32%). Only three facilities reported using direct detection methods, and 28 (41% overall, 32% of lower-level facilities) used rapid tests. Most laboratories (62%) used only traditional testing algorithms (non-treponemal screening and treponemal confirmatory testing); however, 12% used only a reverse sequence algorithm (treponemal test first), and 14% employed both algorithms. Another nine (12%) laboratories conducted only one type of serologic test. Although most reference (97%) and lower-level (89%) laboratories used at least one QA strategy, only 16% reported using all five basic strategies. Commonly reported challenges were stock-outs of essential reagents or commodities (46%), limited staff training (73%) and insufficient equipment (39%).

CONCLUSIONS: Many reference and clinical laboratories in the Americas face challenges in conducting appropriate syphilis testing and in ensuring quality of testing.

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