Syphilis Cases Heightening in China, Raises Concerns About Potential for Increased Number of HIV Infections
Syphilis incidence in China has increased from 0.2 cases per 100,000 people in 1993 to 5.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2005, according to a study published in the Jan. 13 issue of the journal Lancet, BBC News reports. Study co-author Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Center for Infectious Disease said that because "we have reason to believe that syphilis helps to drive [the spread of HIV] ... we have to be concerned that untreated syphilis" in China "will amplify the spread of HIV as well" (McGivering, BBC News, 1/12). People living with syphilis are up to six times as likely to contract HIV, the Associated Press reports (Cheng, Associated Press, 1/11). According to BBC News, syphilis was "virtually eliminated" in China in the 1960s and 1970s, and low condom use, an increased number of commercial sex workers and increased extramarital sex are contributing to the infection's spread (BBC News, 1/12). The study also found that congenital syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant woman passes syphilis to the fetus, has increased from 0.01 cases per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 19.68 cases per 100,000 live births in 2005 (Reuters, 1/11). Study co-author Chen Xiang-Sheng of the National Center for STD Control said it is likely the overall syphilis incidence in China is higher than 5.7 cases per 100,000 people because the study only examined data from government-operated sexually transmitted infection clinics. According to AFP/Yahoo! News, many people get treatment for syphilis from pharmacists or from private facilities, which often do not report cases (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/11). Syphilis can be fatal if left untreated and can cause damage to the nervous system, heart and brain, Reuters reports (Reuters, 1/11).
The study is available online.