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Sex Transm Infect 81:380-385 doi:10.1136/sti.2004.012914
  • HIV

The effects of early syphilis on CD4 counts and HIV-1 RNA viral loads in blood and semen

  1. S T Sadiq1,4,
  2. J McSorley2,
  3. A J Copas1,
  4. J Bennett3,
  5. S J Edwards2,
  6. S Kaye3,
  7. S Kirk3,
  8. P French2,
  9. I V D Weller1
  1. 1Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College, London, UK
  2. 2Camden Primary Care Trust, London, UK
  3. 3Centre for Virology, Division of Infection and Immunity, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College, London, UK
  4. 4Centre for Infection, Division of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, St George’s University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Tariq Sadiq
 Centre for Infection, Division of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, St George’s University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK; ssadiqsgul.ac.uk
  • Accepted 13 December 2004

Abstract

Objective: To examine the effect of early syphilis on blood and semen plasma HIV-1 viral loads and CD4 counts.

Methods: In a retrospective case-control study, blood plasma HIV-1 viral loads and CD4 counts in cases during early syphilis (n = 63, 27 receiving antiretroviral therapy) were compared to those before and after syphilis and with controls with non-systemic acute sexually transmitted infections (STI) (n = 104, 39 receiving antiretroviral therapy). In a prospective substudy in those not receiving antiretroviral therapy, semen plasma viral loads during early syphilis (n = 13) were compared with those 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months after treatment for syphilis and with controls with no STIs (n = 20).

Results: Retrospective study: CD4 counts were similar in cases (median 410, n = 139 counts) during early syphilis compared to before (485, n = 80) and after (475, n = 88). In a secondary analysis, a drop in CD4 count (21%) among those with early latent syphilis was observed compared with controls. Blood plasma viral loads did not change significantly overall or in those with primary, secondary, or early latent syphilis. Effects were similar on or off antiretroviral therapy. Prospective study: blood and semen viral loads were slightly higher in cases compared with controls but treatment of early syphilis did not reduce either.

Conclusions: We detected no association between early syphilis and changes in blood or semen viral load or CD4 count. Increased HIV-1 infectivity associated with early syphilis is unlikely to be associated with increased levels of HIV-1 RNA in blood or semen.

Footnotes

  • Source of funding: internal funding.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.

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