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Hepatitis C virus infection and biological false-positive syphilis tests
  1. M Augenbraun1,
  2. A French2,
  3. M Glesby3,
  4. L Sanchez-Keeland4,
  5. M Young5,
  6. R Greenblatt6,
  7. A Sharma1
  1. 1SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York, USA
  2. 2CORE Center/Stroger Hospital of Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  3. 3Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  4. 4University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
  5. 5Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
  6. 6University of California San Francisco Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Augenbraun, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York 450 Clarkson Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11203, USA; michael.augenbraun{at}


Background The diagnosis of syphilis requires two-step serological testing. Not infrequently, sensitive screening tests are reactive but are not confirmed by more specific confirmatory tests yielding a biological false positive (BFP). This study sought to describe the prevalence of BFP in a large population of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected and uninfected women.

Methods A cross-sectional serosurvey of HIV-seropositive and HIV-seronegative women enrolled in the Women's Interagency HIV Study, a multicentre collaborative study of the natural history of HIV in women.

Results Among HCV-infected women 4% had a BFP compared with 1% among those who were HCV uninfected (odds ratio (OR) 3.3, 95% CI 2.1 to 5.1). Controlling for both HIV infection and a history of intravenous drug use among all tests for syphilis a BFP also occurred more commonly in HCV-infected women compared with HCV-uninfected women (6% vs 1%, OR 7.62, 95% CI 1.9 to 12.5).

Conclusion HCV infection is associated with various effects on immune function including alterations in serological test results. Women with HCV are more likely to have a BFP syphilis test than women without HCV.

  • Hepatitis C
  • serology
  • syphilis

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  • Funding The Womens Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) (UO1-AI-35004, UO1-AI-31834, UO1-AI-34994, UO1-AI-34989, UO1-AI-34993 and UO1-AI-42590) and by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (UO1-HD-32632). The study is co-funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Funding is also provided by the National Center for Research Resources (UCSF-CTSI grant number UL1 RR024131) and NIAID K24 AI78884. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Obtained from WIHS Consortia-participating institutions IRBs have all approved this study.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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