Needle sharing may play role in syphilis transmission

Apr 28, 2010

A binational team of researchers led by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has discovered that active syphilis infections are significantly greater in female sex workers who inject drugs and share needles than in those who don't. The findings suggest that injection drug use may play as big a role as risky sexual behavior in the transmission of syphilis. It may also exacerbate the spread of both HIV and syphilis, as syphilis is frequently a co-factor for HIV infection.

The study, headed by Dr. Thomas L. Patterson of UC San Diego's Department of Psychiatry and the Veterans Administration , San Diego, was published online Tuesday (April 27) in the journal Addiction. It focuses on female sex workers in the U.S./Mexico border towns of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, which are adjacent to San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas, respectively. Female sex workers operate legally in these two cities which lie on major drug trafficking routes.

In collaboration with Mexican researchers, UC San Diego investigators interviewed just over 900 female sex workers to determine their sociodemographics, condom and substance use, and male client characteristics. These women were also tested for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The researchers found that female sex workers who did not have HIV, but tested positive for active infection, were more likely to inject drugs, use before or during sex in the past month, and have U.S. clients who had higher rates of drug-using, including injection, behavior.

"As more than two-thirds of these women have clients from the U.S., our data suggest that U.S. men seeking paid sex across the border in Mexico are at considerable risk of acquiring and transmitting syphilis and other STDs," said co-author Steffanie A. Strathdee, Ph.D., associate dean for Global Health Sciences and chief of the division of global public health at UC San Diego.

Given the sizable overlap between female sex workers and injection drug use in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez and the consistent associations that were observed between syphilis infection and injection behaviors, STD clinics need to think about providing access to sterile syringes, and needle exchange programs should provide rapid, on-site testing for syphilis, according to Strathdee. "We recommend that rapid testing for syphilis be more widely available in these cities, so that these female sex workers can receive immediate follow-up if they test positive."

Like most countries, STD prevention and drug treatment programs are not well integrated in Mexico. Data from this study suggest that failure to integrate these programs could intensify the course of both HIV and syphilis epidemics.

"Because syphilis is a co-factor for HIV, when an HIV epidemic occurs among drug injection users, high rates of syphilis could be a contributing factor that promotes the HIV epidemic," said Strathdee. "Men who have unprotected sex with female sex workers who have syphilitic sores are much more likely to acquire HIV because the two organisms exacerbate each other."

"Our findings provide not only an important message about syphilis control, but also about HIV prevention," said co-author Hugo Staines-Orozco, director of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez. "Cities that have a lot of HIV among injection drug users also tend to have a lot of syphilis, as the two epidemics are linked."

Explore further: Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Behavioral intervention works to reduce risky behavior

Sep 17, 2008

In an effort to curb the rising rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) along the Mexico-US border, a binational team of researchers led by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have shown ...

NYC syphilis cases double in first quarter of 2007

Jul 09, 2007

After leveling off for more than two years, and declining in 2006, new syphilis cases spiked in New York City during the first three months of 2007. The Health Department announced today that doctors reported 260 cases of ...

San Diego battles rising STD cases

Feb 15, 2008

Health officials in San Diego have begun a media campaign to try to cut the rising rate of syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Rapid HIV test found highly effective

Aug 15, 2006

A study to be presented this week at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto demonstrates that the new rapid HIV testing protocol is very effective for insuring that people learn whether or not they are infected.

Recommended for you

US orders farms to report pig virus infections

8 hours ago

The U.S. government is starting a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of a virus that has killed millions of pigs since showing up in the country last year.

Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

9 hours ago

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

12 hours ago

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

New clues on tissue scarring in scleroderma

13 hours ago

A discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists could lead to potential new treatments for breaking the cycle of tissue scarring in people with scleroderma.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CarolinaScotsman
not rated yet Apr 29, 2010
Or it could be that prostitutes who inject drugs have a worse class of customers than those who do not.

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...