PURPOSETo analyse the prevalence of syphilis in the apparently healthy population and to provide data for implementation of the joint STD/HIV control programme, a population based study was undertaken by using 'probability proportional to size' cluster survey method in three randomly chosen districts of Tamil Nadu, India namely Dindigul, Ramnad and Tanjore.METHODSBlood samples were collected from adults (n=1873) aged 15-45 years, from the selected households enrolled in this study. The sera were tested parallelly by rapid plasma reagin (RPR) and Treponema pallidum haemagglutination (TPHA) tests. Reactive samples by RPR and/or TPHA were later analysed by fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) test.RESULTSThe prevalence of syphilis in the community of Tamil Nadu as per RPR positivity was 2.7% (50/1873) as against 0.7% by TPHA (13/1873). FTA-ABS positivity was observed in only 12 out of 48 (25%) RPR/TPHA reactive samples tested. By taking the positivity by two of the three tests, the community prevalence of acute ongoing syphilis in Tamil Nadu was determined as 1.1% (20/1873).CONCLUSIONSThe results confirmed that no single serological test for syphilis can act as the marker of ongoing acute infection in an apparently healthy population. The study suggests that for specific diagnosis of ongoing syphilis, the FTA-ABS test may be performed along with RPR and TPHA.