Background: Antenatal screening for, and prompt management of, sexually transmitted infections (STI) can prevent adverse maternal, fetal and perinatal outcomes. This is particularly important in areas of high STI endemicity.
Aims: To assess adherence with antenatal STI screening guidelines in a large remote region, and whether completeness of antenatal syphilis screening improved after the onset of a regional syphilis outbreak in April 2001.
Methods: Data from the regional antenatal syphilis screening database from 1997 to 2002 were analysed to identify time trends in the completeness of antenatal syphilis screening. Adherence to antenatal screening guidelines was assessed by examining pathology request forms of women undergoing antenatal syphilis screening to determine whether screening for gonorrhoea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and HIV had also been carried out. Logistic regression was used to analyse associations between adherence to the guidelines and patient's age and race, and health service characteristics.
Results: Adherence to syphilis screening guidelines improved from 44.6% in 1997 to 68.9% in 2001 and 81.4% in 2002. After controlling for the time interval between the first antenatal syphilis test and date of delivery, being younger and Aboriginal, and delivering after the syphilis outbreak had been identified were positively associated with adherence to syphilis screening guidelines. Proportions of antenates screened for gonorrhoea/chlamydia, hepatitis B and HIV at booking and for gonorrhoea/chlamydia in the third trimester were 69%, 91%, 68% and 77%, respectively. Aboriginal women were more likely to have been screened for gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Women seen by a doctor were more likely to have undergone HIV screening than those who saw a nurse.
Conclusions: Significant improvement in adherence to antenatal syphilis screening guidelines occurred after identification of a syphilis outbreak. This achievement is reason for optimism regarding the potential to achieve more complete antenatal screening of other STI.