Gay men who are infected with HIV are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with secondary syphilis than are HIV-negative gay men, according to a study presented last week at the U.K. Health Protection Agency's First Scientific Conference. Secondary syphilis is a stage of the sexually transmitted disease that occurs about two to eight weeks after infection and follows the primary infection state, marked by the appearance of open sores on the penis or in the rectum or throat. Secondary syphilis, which is diagnosed through blood tests, is the most contagious stage of the STD. The study also reported that gay men coinfected with HIV and syphilis were more likely to be older and were more likely to use the Internet to meet sexual partners than were the HIV-negative study subjects.
Syphilis among HIV-positive adults can be more difficult to treat than in HIV-negative patients, and the disease may be more aggressive, causing neurological problems and ulcers of the skin and mouth. The researchers are uncertain as to why HIV-positive gay men were more likely to be infected with syphilis than were other gay men. Part of the difference in infection figures was likely due to the fact that secondary syphilis is detected via blood tests, and these tests were more likely to be given to patients at HIV testing centers and STD clinics. But it may also be possible that some people with HIV infection, particularly those with low T-cell counts, may be more susceptible to other STDs.