Early syphilis infections are on the rise, with nearly 24,000 cases of primary and secondary disease reported to CDC in 2015, which represents a 19% increase compared with the previous year. Nearly 60% of these reported infections were among men who have sex with men (MSM), and 50% had co-infection with HIV. Most health care providers who treat HIV in the United States are experienced in recognizing and screening for syphilis in clinic, and Treponema pallidum remains highly sensitive to penicillin therapy. Nonetheless, there has been some reluctance among health care providers who treat infectious disease to follow CDC Treatment Guidelines for patients with HIV with early syphilis. Since 2006, CDC guidelines have stated to treat adults with early syphilis with a single IM dose of 2.4 million units of benzathine penicillin (BPG), irrespective of HIV status. Several, but not all, observational studies in coinfected patients over the past decade have confirmed these CDC recommendations. This new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases by Andrade et al is the first known prospective, open-label, randomized controlled trial to focus on this key question.
Researchers enrolled study subjects at three sites in Texas (n = 64, 95% men, 51% MSM), and their findings confirmed the role of single-dose BPG in HIV–infected patients with early syphilis. These findings are relevant to contemporary HIV practice in the U.S. because a majority of subjects were taking antiretroviral therapy with a mean CD4 count of 388 cells/mm3. Receipt of ART, CD4 count and HIV viral load did not predict treatment response, although few patients had a CD4 count less than200 cells/mm3. These important results are expected to change clinical practice and improve adherence to 2015 CDC treatment guidelines. They should provide reassurance to providers that additional therapy for early syphilis is not necessary in patients with HIV. Larger multi-center trials to confirm these findings would add to our confidence in the results, but funds may be better spent on developing innovative ways to promote and optimize universal syphilis screening in HIV clinics, particularly among MSM.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD Treatment Guidelines. 2015.
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Disclosure: Dionne-Odom reports no relevant financial disclosures.