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Syphilis serology in HIV positive and HIV negative Nigerians The


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									                                                                                                           Published Quarterly
                                                                                                           Mangalore, South India
                                                                                                           ISSN 0972-5997
                                                                                                           Volume 5, Issue 2; Apr - Jun 2006

     Original Article

     Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians:
     The public health significance

     Chigozie Jesse Uneke,
     Department of Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Clinical Medicine, Ebonyi State
     University, Abakaliki- Nigeria
     Ogbonnaya Ogbu,
     Department of Applied Microbiology, Faculty of Applied and Natural Sciences, Ebonyi
     State University, Abakaliki- Nigeria
     Moses Alo,
     Federal Medical Centre, Abakaliki- Nigeria
     Thaddeus Ariom,
     Federal Medical Centre, Abakaliki- Nigeria

     Address For Correspondence
     C.J. Uneke
     Department of Medical Microbiology,
     Faculty of Clinical Medicine
     Ebonyi State University,
     P.M.B. 053 Abakaliki- Nigeria
     E-mail: unekecj@yahoo.com

     Uneke CJ, Ogbu O,Alo M, Ariom T. Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative
     Nigerians: The public health significance Online J Health Allied Scs. 2006;2:5


     Open Access Archives

Submitted: May 31, 2006; Suggested Revision: Jul 03, 2006; Revised: Jul 04, 2006; Accepted: Jul 20, 2006; Published: Sep 11, 2006

                   OJHAS Vol 5 Issue 2, 2006-2-5 Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians: The public health significance

Abstract:                                                                        The interaction of syphilis and HIV in-
Syphilis has acquired new potential for                                          fection is reportedly complex.(4) Isolat-
morbidity     and     mortality    through                                       ed case reports have suggested that
association with increased risk for HIV                                          coexistent HIV infection may alter the
infection. Case-control survey was                                               natural history of syphilis and the
conducted using Rapid Plasma Reagin                                              dosage or duration of treatment re-
test           and           confirmatory                                        quired to cure syphilis.(5,6) These
Immunochromatographic test among                                                 anecdotal reports have led to the hy-
HIV-positive (cases) and HIV-negative                                            pothesis that in patients co-infected
(control)    Nigerians.    A     total   of                                      with HIV and T. pallidum, cutaneous le-
35(14.0%) of 250 HIV-positive and                                                sions may be more severe, symp-
5(2.0%)       of    250      HIV-negative                                        tomatic neurosyphilis may be more
individuals studied were seropositive                                            likely to develop, the latency period
for syphilis, the difference was                                                 before the development of meningo-
statistically significant (P<0.05). The                                          vascular syphilis may be shorter, and
prevalence was higher among females                                              the efficacy of standard therapy for
than males of HIV-positive (15.0%                                                early syphilis may be reduced.(7)
versus 12.7%) and of the HIV-negative
(2.1%     versus     1.9%)     individuals.                                      Furthermore, the genital ulcerations
Syphilis seroprevalence was highest                                              and inflammation caused by syphilis
among HIV-positive individuals aged                                              are implicated as cofactors making in-
21-30 years (20.5%) and 41-50 years                                              fected individuals three to five times
old HIV-negative individuals (4.5%).                                             more likely to acquire HIV if exposed to
Sex education, promotion of safer                                                the virus through sexual contact.(8)
sexual behaviour, prompt diagnosis of                                            Unless prompt diagnosis and treat-
STDs and provision of effective,                                                 ment of syphilis are performed serious
accessible          treatment          are                                       complications including male and fe-
recommended                                                                      male infertility may result, and in preg-
Key Words: Syphilis, Treponema                                                   nancy, adverse outcomes such as still-
pallidum, HIV, Seroprevalence                                                    birth, perinatal death and serious
                                                                                 neonatal infection may occur.(9)
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)                                             There is paucity of information on
are a major global cause of infertility,                                         syphilis serology in Nigeria as in other
long-term disability and death with                                              countries of the sub-Saharan Africa, a
severe medical and psychological                                                 region where 25.4 million HIV-infected
consequences for millions of men,                                                people (64% of all people with HIV) are
women and infants.(1) Syphilis, caused                                           living.(10) Available information in the
by the bacterium Treponema pallidum,                                             region usually came from seropreva-
is a major STD which remains an                                                  lence sentinel surveys of women at-
important cause of morbidity and is                                              tending ante-natal clinics, ANCs.(11-
associated,     like   other   ulcerative                                        13) This study was therefore designed
sexually transmitted infections, with                                            to add to the limited body of literature
enhanced sexual transmission of                                                  on syphilis serology among HIV-posi-
human       immunodeficiency        virus,                                       tive and HIV-negative individuals in the
HIV.(2) While syphilis is largely under                                          sub-Saharan Africa.
control in affluent part of the world, it
continues to be a tragic and                                                     Materials         and        Methods:
substantial      problem     in     many                                         Study                              Area
developing        countries,    including                                        This study was hospital-based and con-
Nigeria. Furthermore, through its                                                ducted at the Federal Medical Centre
association with increased risk for HIV                                          (FMC), one of the largest health institu-
infection, syphilis has acquired a new                                           tions located in Abakaliki the capital
potential      for     morbidity      and                                        city of Ebonyi State, South-eastern
mortality.(3)                                                                    Nigeria. The FMC Abakaliki, sees an av-
           OJHAS Vol 5 Issue 2, 2006-2-5 Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians: The public health significance

erage of 3,327 out patients every                                                483 patients was confirmed positive,
month with over 30% of the patients                                              32 were indeterminate while the rest
coming from outside of the city includ-                                          were HIV-negative. Serum samples
ing other neighbouring South-eastern                                             from the first confirmed 250 HIV-posi-
States of Nigeria. The HIV infection                                             tive and 250 HIV-seronegative individ-
prevalence of 4.6% and 1.0% for                                                  uals were selected and thereafter sub-
syphilis were recorded from seropreva-                                           jected to syphilis serology. Individuals
lence survey in ANCs in the area.(12)                                            whose HIV serostatus was indetermi-
Heterosexual intercourse is the pre-                                             nate by immunoblot analysis were ex-
dominant sexual behaviour in the                                                 cluded from the syphilis serology. Only
area.(14)                                                                        a total of 500 samples were screened
                                                                                 due to financial constraints and the
Ethical        Considerations                                                    number of available syphilis tests. The
The approval of this study was ob-                                               syphilis serology was conducted as an
tained from Infectious Disease Re-                                               anonymous and unlinked survey.
search Division, Department of Medical
Microbiology,    Faculty  of   Clinical                                          HIV      and     Syphilis       Serology
Medicine, Ebonyi State University and                                            The HIV Tri Line Test kits, commercially
the Ethical Committee of the Federal                                             available (Biosystem INC., Austria)
Medical Centre Abakaliki.                                                        were first used to detect antibodies to
                                                                                 HIV-1 and HIV-2 in the serum samples.
Study Population/Sampling Tech-                                                  Thereafter the HIV-seropositive sam-
nique:                                                                           ples were confirmed by immunoblot
The study was a case-control investi-                                            analysis using the BIORAD New Lav
gation conducted from January 2004 to                                            Blot kits, commercially available (Bio-
April 2005. During the study period,                                             Rad Novapath Diagnostic Group US.).
1,672 patients who visited the FMC                                               The first 250 serum samples, con-
Abakaliki, comprising of individuals                                             firmed HIV-positive (cases) and the
with symptoms suggestive of retroviral                                           first 250 serum samples, confirmed
infection, referred to the laboratory                                            HIV-seronegative (control) were further
unit by their physicians for HIV anti-                                           screened for syphilis using the Rapid
body testing, and others who had test-                                           Plasma Reagin (RPR) Test and reactive
ed HIV positive by enzyme-linked im-                                             samples were confirmed using im-
munosorbent assay (ELISA) elsewhere                                              munochromatographic          (IC)   rapid
and were referred to the hospital for                                            syphilis test kits, commercially avail-
confirmatory test, were considered for                                           able (Cal-Tech Diagnostic INC.).
the study. Also considered for the
study were 937 individuals who visited                                           Statistical          Analysis:
the hospital for various reasons, such                                           Differences in proportion were evaluat-
as premarital screening tests, antena-                                           ed using the chi-square test. Statistical
tal tests, paediatrics care tests, and                                           significant was achieved if P < 0.05.
pre-employment/admission tests of
which HIV antibody testing was among                                             Results:
the tests required. The sex of each pa-                                          A total of 35(14.0%, 95% CI., 9.7-
tient was recorded while age was ob-                                             18.3%) of the cases (250 HIV-
tained by interview. About 4mls of                                               positive)and 5(2.0%, 95%CI., 0.3-3.7%)
blood sample was obtained by                                                     of the control (250 HIV-negative)
venepuncture from each patient and                                               individuals     were    seropositive  for
serum was separated and stored at                                                syphilis (Odd ratio=7.98, 95% CI., 5.6-
-20oC until serological analysis (HIV an-                                        10.4), indicating T. pallidum infection
tibody and syphilis testing) was per-                                            (Table 1), and the difference was
formed. After the HIV antibody testing                                           statistically significant (χ2=34.5, df=1,
of all subjects, the HIV serostatus of                                           P<0.05).

           OJHAS Vol 5 Issue 2, 2006-2-5 Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians: The public health significance

Table 1: Summary of prevalence of T. pallidum infection among HIV-positive
and HIV-negative individuals in Abakaliki, South-eastern Nigeria.

                                                                                                                            95% Confidence in-
                          Male                               Female                          Overall total
                                 Number           Number           Number
   HIV-     Number                        Number           Number
                                 (%) in-          (%) in-          (%) in-
serostatus examined                      examined         examined
                                  fected           fected           fected
                  110           14(12.7)               140           21(15.0)               250           35(14.0)                    9.7-18.3
                  106             2(1.9)               144             3(2.1)               250             5(2.0)                        0.3-3.7
  Total           216            16(7.4)               284            24(8.5)               500            40(8.0)                    5.6-10.4

Among the HIV-positive individuals (110 males and 140 females), the prevalence of
T. pallidum infection was higher in the females (15.0%, 95% CI., 9.1-20.9%) than in
the males (12.7%, 95% CI., 6.5-18.9%), but there was no significant difference statis-
tically (χ2=0.27, df=1,P>0.05). Individuals of the 21-30 and 31-40 years age groups
had the highest prevalence of 20.5% (95% CI., 11.2-29.8%) and 20.0% (95% CI; 9.4-
30.6%) respectively (Table 2). This was followed by those aged 11-20 years (10.0%,
95% CI; 0.7-19.3%). T. pallidum infection was not observed among individuals less
than 10 years old. Males and the females had almost equal prevalence of T. pallidum
infection in the age category 21–30 and 31-40 years while females were more infect-
ed in the age category 11-20 than the males (13.3% vs. 8.0%), the reverse was the
case among the 41-50 years age group (7.4% vs 8.0%) (Table 2). Statistical analysis
showed no significant difference in the trend (χ2 = 9.51, df =5, P > 0.05)

Table 2: Age-related prevalence of T. pallidum infection among HIV-positive
individuals in Abakaliki, South-eastern Nigeria.

                 Male              Female           Overall total    95% Confidence interval
                    Number             Number               Number
  Age      Number             Number             Number
                     (%) in-            (%) in-              (%) in-
(years)   examined           examined           examined
                     fected             fected               fected
 < 10         4      0 (0.0)     6      0(0.0)      10       0(0.0)             -
11-20         25     2 (8.0)    15     2(13.3)      40      4(10.0)         0.7-19.3
21--30        29    6 (20.7)    44     9(20.5)      73     15(20.5)       11.2 –29.8
31–40         20     4(20.0)    35     7(20.0)      55     11(20.0)        9.4 –30.6
41–50         25     2 (8.0)    27      2(7.4)      52       4(7.7)        0.5- 14 .9
 >50          7      0 (0.0)    13      1(0.9)      20       1 (5.0)       4.6 –14.6
 Total       110    14(12.7)    140    21(15.0)    250     35(14.0)         9.7-18.3

Among the HIV-negative individuals (106 males and 144 females), two males (1.9%,
95% CI., 0.7-4.5%) and three females (2.1%, 95% CI., 0.2–4.4%) were seropositive
for syphilis. Chi-square test showed no significant difference in the trend (χ 2=0.01,
df=1,P>0.05) (Table 3). The HIV-negative individuals aged 41-50 years old had the
highest T. pallidum prevalence of 4.5% (95% CI., 4.2-13.2%) followed by individuals
21-30 years old (3.7%, 95% CI; 0.4-7.8%). T. pallidum infection was not observed
among those less than 10 years old (Table 3). No statistical significant difference was
observed in the trend (χ 2= 3.85, df =5, P > 0.05).

             OJHAS Vol 5 Issue 2, 2006-2-5 Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians: The public health significance

Table 3: Age-related prevalence of T. pallidum infection among HIV-nega-
tive individuals in Abakaliki, South-eastern Nigeria.

                 Male             Female         Overall total                                                  95% Confidence interval
                    Number           Number             Number
  Age      Number            Number            Number
                    (%) in-           (%) in-            (%) in-
(years)   examined          examined          examined
                     fected           fected             fected
 < 10         7     0 (0.0)     5     0(0.0)      12      0(0.0)                                                                  -
11-20        30     1 (3.3)    35     0(0.0)      65      1(1.5)                                                               1.5-4.5
21--30       35      1(2.9)    46     2(4.3)      81      3(3.7)                                                               0.4-7.8
31–40        15      0(0.0)    30     0(0.0)     45       0(0.0)                                                                  -
41–50        10      0(0.0)    12     1(8.3)      22     1(4.5)                                                               4.2-13.2
 >50          9      0(0.0)    16     0(0.0)      25      0(0.0)                                                                  -
 Total       106     2(1.9)    144    3(2.1)     250      5(2.0)                                                               0.3-3.7

Discussion:                                                                       quiring HIV also increase the risk for
One     of    the   principal  problems                                           acquiring     other    STIs    including
confronting syphilis research in most                                             syphilis.(1) These may have accounted
developing tropical countries is the                                              for the higher prevalence of T. pallidi-
inability to reproducibly culture T.                                              um infection among the HIV infected
pallidum in the routine laboratory.(15)                                           individuals in the study area.
Serological tests are currently the
mainstay for syphilis diagnosis and                                               It is worth noting that infection with
management and the nontreponemal                                                  HIV may not only alter the clinical pre-
tests are useful in screening patients                                            sentation of syphilis, but also the per-
for the presence of nonspecific reagin                                            formance of syphilis serologic tests.
antibodies that appear and rise in titer                                          Thus the diagnosis of syphilis may be
following infection.(16,17) The choice                                            more complicated in HIV-infected pa-
of the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test,                                            tients because of false-negative and
a non-treponemal serological test for                                             false-positive serologic results for T.
syphilis, in this study, were because it                                          pallidum.(7,24) Co-infection with HIV
is widely used as a screening test in                                             and syphilis however, does not gener-
the developing world, easy to perform,                                            ally impair the sensitivity of syphilis
does not need advanced equipment,                                                 testing, although there are sporadic re-
and is inexpensive.(18,19)                                                        ports of absent or delayed response to
                                                                                  nontreponemal tests.(25) In contrast,
In this study, it was established that                                            HIV infection may reduce the specifici-
the seroprevalence of T pallidum infec-                                           ty of syphilis testing.(24,25) Although,
tion was significantly higher among the                                           serologic tests appear to be accurate
HIV-positive than HIV-negative individ-                                           and reliable for the diagnosis of
uals (14.0% vs 2.0%) (P<0.05). This is                                            syphilis and the evaluation of treat-
consistent with the findings in a similar                                         ment response in the majority of HIV-
study in Cuba.(20) A plausible explana-                                           infected patients (7), the interpretation
tion is that the impairment of both cell-                                         of non-treponemal specific serological
mediated and humoral immunity by                                                  tests in a population where syphilis
HIV (21), could limit the host's defens-                                          and HIV are endemic such as the sub-
es against T. pallidum, thereby en-                                               Saharan Africa may be encountered
hancing susceptibility to syphilis and                                            with difficulty due to lack of confirma-
also altering the clinical manifestations                                         tory      tests     and      experienced
or natural course of the infection.(7) In                                         personnel.(26,27) In many of such
addition it is well established that the                                          communities, the prevalence of reac-
prevalence of infections transmitted                                              tive serology did not accurately reflect
sexually is usually higher in HIV- posi-                                          infectious syphilis largely because of
tive than HIV-negative individuals                                                unavailability      of      confirmatory
(22,23), presumably because sexual                                                tests.(28)This problem was however
behaviors that increase the risk for ac-                                          surmounted in this study by the use of
            OJHAS Vol 5 Issue 2, 2006-2-5 Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians: The public health significance

immunochromatographic (IC) rapid                                                 of syphilis actually facilitated HIV infec-
syphilis test kits (Cal-Tech Diagnostic                                          tion because we were unable to estab-
INC.), that served as confirmatory test                                          lish whether syphilis infections pre-dat-
and substantiated the findings.                                                  ed the HIV infections or vice versa. A
                                                                                 more complex study to achieve this
Females generally had higher rates of                                            goal using immunological and molecu-
infection with T. pallidum than the                                              lar biologic tools is advocated. Our in-
males in this study. Although no statis-                                         ability to report the different stages of
tical significant difference was ob-                                             syphilis among those infected, obtain
served, this was in conformity with the                                          sufficient socio-demographic data from
findings of Hwang et al.(29) who re-                                             subjects, and the rather limited study
ported that women had up to 4.5%                                                 population size, were draw backs to
higher prevalence of T. pallidum infec-                                          the study. Further studies incorporat-
tion than men. This was also consistent                                          ing period of syphilis infection and de-
with the findings of Todd et al. (30)                                            tailed socio-demographic parameters
who also reported higher prevalence of                                           as well as larger population size are
T. pallidum infection in women (9.1%)                                            advocated.
than in men (7.5%) in a rural African
population. On the contrary, a higher                                            In conclusion, this study has provided
prevalence of T. pallidum infection was                                          additional insights on the burden of T.
observed in males (27.5%) than in fe-                                            pallidum infection in Nigeria. As a pub-
males (12.4%) in United State.(31) It is                                         lic health measure, the need to intensi-
well established that syphilis in the fe-                                        fy efforts on the promotion of safer
males is less likely to be symptomatic;                                          sexual behaviour particularly among
hence the prevalence of antibodies is                                            adolescents and provision of effective,
usually higher among them compared                                               accessible treatment for STDs in devel-
to the males.(4,19) Secondly, there is                                           oping countries can not be overstated.
generally a diminished access to                                                 Transforming such measures into pub-
health services by the females in the                                            lic health policy is indispensable to the
sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria as                                          success of HIV/STD interventional pro-
in other developing countries.(32,33)                                            grammes.
These may explain the higher preva-
lence of syphilis among the females.                                             Acnowledgements:
                                                                                 Authors are grateful to the manage-
Individuals in their third decade of life                                        ment of the Federal Medical Centre,
in this study were found to have rela-                                           Abakaliki for logistical support.
tively high rate of T. pallidum infection.
This was more obvious in the HIV in-                                             References
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      OJHAS Vol 5 Issue 2, 2006-2-5 Syphilis serology in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerians: The public health significance


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