Modelling the risk of transfusion-transmitted syphilis: a reconsideration of blood donation testing strategies

Thisuri Jayawardena, Veronica Hoad, Claire Styles, Clive Seed, Peter Bentley, Vanessa Clifford, Sarina Lacey, Tessa Gastrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Objectives: Donor syphilis testing began in the 1940s amidst widespread transfusion-transmitted syphilis (TTS). Since then, the introduction of penicillin, pre-donation screening questionnaires and improved storage conditions have contributed to reducing transmission risk. Consequently, universal testing may no longer be cost-effective. This study analysed alternative options for donor syphilis testing to determine the optimal strategy. Materials and Methods: A model was developed using conservative parameter estimates for factors affecting TTS and 2009-2015 Australian donations to calculate risk outcomes (TTS infections, tertiary syphilis in recipients and transfusion-associated congenital syphilis) and cost-effectiveness of alternative testing strategies. The strategies modelled were as follows: universal testing, targeted-testing of high-risk groups (males ≤50 years old and first-time donors) and no testing. Results: The estimated risk of TTS is one in 49·5 million transfusions for universal testing, one in 6 million for targeted-testing of males ≤50 years old, one in 4 million for targeted-testing of first-time donors and one in 2·8 million for no testing. For all strategies, the risk of tertiary and congenital syphilis is <1 in 100 million. Universal testing is the least cost-effective strategy with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) estimated at $538·5 million per disability-adjusted life year averted. Conclusion: Universal testing is not required to maintain the risk of TTS within tolerable limits and is estimated to greatly exceed acceptable ICERs for blood safety interventions. However, despite a strong economic and risk-based rationale, given the epidemiology of syphilis in Australia is changing, feedback from critical stakeholders is not currently supportive of reducing testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalVox Sanguinis
Issue number2
Early online date18 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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