Exploring how epidemic context influences syphilis screening impact: a mathematical modeling study.


We constructed a compartmental metapopulation model parameterized to describe observed patterns of syphilis transmission. We estimated the impact of different approaches to screening, including perfect adherence to current U.S. screening guidelines in MSM.

The current syphilis epidemic in the United States is concentrated in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), but substantial heterosexual transmission is reported in some parts of the country. Using the U.S. states of Louisiana and Massachusetts as case studies, we investigated how epidemic context influences the impact of population screening approaches for syphilis control.

In Louisiana, where syphilis cases are more evenly distributed among MSM and heterosexual populations, we projected that screening according to guidelines would contribute to no change or an increase in syphilis burden, compared to burden with current estimated screening coverage. In Massachusetts, which has a more MSM-focused outbreak, we projected that screening according to guidelines would be as or more effective than current screening coverage in most population groups.

MSM-focused approaches to screening may be insufficient for control when there is substantial transmission in heterosexual populations. Epidemic characteristics may be useful when identifying at-risk groups for syphilis screening.

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