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April 5, 1976


Author Affiliations

Center for Disease Control Atlanta

JAMA. 1976;235(14):1424. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03260400012004

To the Editor.—  We believe that the data presented by Burns in his report on the fluorescent treponemal antibody-absorption (FTA-ABS) test (234:617, 1975) do not support his conclusions.First, Burns' use of the FTA-ABS test to screen healthy persons for syphilis was an improper application of the test and may have led to meaningless conclusions. When any diagnostic test is applied to a low-prevalence disease population, such as presumed healthy persons, the ratio of false-positive to true-positive results increases. Thus, the author's results may represent results of repeat serologic testing in a number of persons with false-positive FTA-ABS tests. The use of this test should be restricted to those persons who are at high risk of syphilis, eg, persons with reactive VDRL test results or suspicion of recent syphilis.Second, Burns failed to support his statement that the degree of fluorescence in the FTA-ABS test is important in detecting syphilis.