Rising syphilis infection among rural HIV-infected men who routinely received risk-reduction counseling: New challenges to HIV prevention in clinical care

Poonam Mathur, John Zurlo, Patsi Albright, Tonya Crook, Cynthia Whitener, Ping Du

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Objective: Syphilis incidence has been steadily increasing among HIV-infected men in the United States, representing an important public health challenge to HIV prevention. Clinic-based HIV prevention interventions are available but may need to be revisited in response to syphilis epidemic. We wanted to better understand the current epidemiology of syphilis in rural HIV-infected men who routinely received HIV risk-reduction counseling in order to plan more effective HIV prevention strategies in clinical care. Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study to examine factors associated with syphilis infections in rural HIV-infected men who received sexually transmitted disease screening and HIV risk-reduction counseling during HIV primary care from January 2008 to June 2013. We assessed patients' demographic, clinical, behavioral and psychosocial characteristics and performed a multivariable exact logistic regression to identify factors related to syphilis. Results: Despite routine risk screening and HIV risk-reduction counseling, a total of 51 syphilis infections were diagnosed among 702 HIV-infected men (5 patients were diagnosed ≥ 2 episodes). The majority of the study participants was sexually active and reported at least one unsafe sexual behavior, mainly inconsistent condom use. Younger age (<35 years, adjusted odds ratio (aOR)=3.09), higher educational attainment (some college or above, aOR=3.72), and perception that the partner may have sex with other people (aOR=3.10) were significantly associated with syphilis infection. Non-injection drug use was related to syphilis in HIV-infected men who have sex with men (aOR=2.86). Discussion: Some HIV-infected men, especially young, educated men, or those who perceived that their partners may have sex with other people, continue to have high-risk behaviors that increase their own risks of acquiring syphilis and may also facilitate HIV transmission. New strategies need to be developed for HIV primary care providers to help HIV-infected patients maintain safer sex practices.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of AIDS and Clinical Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2014


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