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Background: Untreated maternal syphilis is strongly associated with adverse birth outcomes. The WHO recommends routine serological screening in pregnancy. Some workers have advised a reappraisal of this practice, having demonstrated low seroprevalence in their antenatal population.
Objective: To determine the prevalence of seropositive VDRL cases amongst pregnant women at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH) in order to justify the need and cost-effectiveness for continued routine syphilis screening using VDRL alone.
Methodology: A retrospective review of hospital and laboratory records of all pregnant women booked for antenatal care (ANC) at RSUTH in a two-year period, from May 2017 to April 2019, was carried out. Data on patients’ age, parity and educational level, and reactivity of VDRL test at booking were retrieved using structured pro-forma and analyzed using Epi Info Version 7. Test for significance using Chi-square was set at significant level of P<0.05.
Results: 3560 clinic patients had VDRL screening out of which 63 were positive. The overall prevalence rate in this study was 1.8%. The mean age was 31.5±4.7 years and the mean gestational age at booking was 22.1±6.8 weeks. There was no significant relationship between their age (χ2 = 0.403, p-value=0.940), parity (χ2 = 3.707, p-value=0.0.157), and educational status (χ2 = 1.853, p-value=0.396), and seropositivity. The cost of VDRL test per patient in RSUTH is $3, to detect the 63 cases the sum of $10,680 was spent.
Conclusion: The seroprevalence rate of syphilis in this study was low. Initial screening using VDRL alone is neither justified nor cost effective. Selective screening based on risk factors and specific test with TPHA is recommended.
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