Background The bacterium Treponema pallidum ( T. pallidum) causes syphilis. Penicillin is effective treatment, but azithromycin (a macrolide) is a single-dose oral alternative for those with allergy. Unfortunately, macrolide resistance secondary to one of two 23S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) point mutations (A2058G and A2059G) is now wide-spread. Molecular strain-typing suggests that epidemics and macrolide resistance are unlikely the spread of single clones.
We present typing and macrolide resistance data from two geographically distinct populations: Colombo, Sri Lanka and London, UK.
Methods Cross-sectional studies were conducted at the Colombo District STD clinics and St Mary’s Hospital, London. Ulcer exudate and/or blood were collected from patients with microbiologically confirmed syphilis. Presence of T. pallidum DNA ( tpp047 gene) was confirmed with PCR. Next, using published techniques, the 23SrRNAgene was PCR-amplified for a point-mutation assay and tpp0548, arp and tprE,G& Jamplicons were used for strain-typing.
Results Sri Lanka: 24 T. pallidum PCR-positive samples were collected. Patients were men (45.9% MSM) and 91.6% Sinhalese with a mean age of 28 (range 29). None were HIV-1 infected. Two strain types were discovered (14b/f and 13b/f), neither harbouring macrolide resistance.
London: 43 men were recruited, 18 in 2006–8 and 25 in 2011–12. Mean age was 37.5 (range 43); 95.2% were MSM and 62.8% were HIV-1 infected. Half (22/43) were white British. A total of 5 full and 14 partial strain types were identified, of which 6 were unique. Macrolide resistance increased from 66.7%(12/18) in 2006–8 to 80%(20/25) in 2011–12.
Conclusion Colombo T. pallidumstrains have limited diversity with no macrolide resistance. London strains are more varied and increasingly macrolide-resistant. Ethnic diversity in London exceeds Colombo’s and may explain increased strain diversity. In contrast to Sri Lanka, azithromycin is widely used to treat Chlamydia and non-specific urethritis in the UK thus selection pressure may be driving macrolide resistance.
- antibiotic resistance
- Sri Lanka
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