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Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Nov 15;49(10):1505-11. doi: 10.1086/644618.

Factors determining serologic response to treatment in patients with syphilis.

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Division of Infectious Diseases and Dermatology, Department of Medicine, Fundación Jiménez Díaz, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain.



The goal of this study was to describe the clinical and epidemiologic manifestations of a syphilis outbreak in downtown Madrid, Spain. Because human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive patients may be at increased risk of serologic failure during syphilis treatment, analysis of factors determining the response to treatment was performed in a cohort of HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients with syphilis.


We performed a longitudinal, retrospective study of patients with syphilis who received the diagnosis at a university-affiliated hospital in Madrid from 2003 through 2007.


Three hundred forty-seven cases of syphilis were identified and treated (30 primary, 164 secondary, 77 early latent, and 76 late cases of syphilis). Forty-one percent of patients were immigrants, mostly from South America and the Caribbean, and 49.3% were known to be HIV positive. Syphilis incidence increased from 15.6 to 35 cases per 100,000 person-years from 2003 to 2007. Most patients were men, and 50.4% were men who had sex with other men. Meningitis (4.9%) and uveitis (2.9%) were the complications most frequently observed, and their frequency did not differ between HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients. Serologic failure was observed in 44 (23.5%) patients: 37 (29.6%) of 125 HIV-positive patients and 7 (11.2%) of 62 HIV-negative patients (odds ratio, 3.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.38-7.93; P < .05). Men (hazard ratio [HR], 0.38), patients in the late stage of syphilis (HR, 0.46), and HIV-positive persons (HR, 0.61) demonstrated slower serological responses to treatment. HIV-negative patients responded more frequently to treatment, but after 2 years of follow-up, both groups shared similar response rates. Antiretroviral treatment reduced the time to serologic response (HR, 2.08; 95% confidence interval, 1.35- 3.20; P < .001).


Syphilis incidence rose 223% from 2003 to 2007, affecting mostly HIV-positive men, men who have sex with men, and immigrants. Men, patients in the late stages of syphilis, and HIV-positive persons may be at increased risk of serologic failure. Antiretroviral therapy significantly reduced the time to achieve response to syphilis treatment in HIV-positive patients.

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