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Antibiotics Safe, Effective for Preventing Syphilis Among High-Risk Populations, Study Says

November 13, 2003

Antibiotics can be a "safe and effective" way of preventing syphilis infection among high-risk populations, according to a pilot study published in the November issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports. Tom Farley, chair of the community health sciences department at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues mapped the city of Baton Rouge, La., for "hot spots" of syphilis risk and set up a mobile laboratory offering free testing for sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Advocate. The researchers, who conducted the study between 1997 and 1999, tested participants for STDs and asked them to complete a questionnaire about the number of sexual partners they had had in the previous year, the Advocate reports. Researchers considered a person at risk for syphilis if they had had three or more sexual partners in the previous year or if they believed that one of the sexual partners had been involved in other sexual relationships during the same time. Almost all of the participants said that they would be willing to take antibiotics to prevent syphilis or other STDs (Gyan, Baton Rouge Advocate, 11/12). Of the 186 people who agreed to take part in the study, researchers treated 174 people with antibiotics. One group of participants received single doses of benzathine penicillin, azithromycin and cefixime and another group received a single dose of cefixime and three doses of azithromycine biweekly (Farley et al., Sexually Transmitted Diseases, November 2003). One course of therapy involved a one-time injection, and the other was administered in pill form to participants, all of whom were heterosexual black men and women, the Advocate reports.

Of the 174 participants who received treatment, 125 were located for follow-up interviews one month after treatment and three months later, the Advocate reports (Baton Rouge Advocate, 11/12). Researchers found that four months after treatment, 1% of participants had acquired gonorrhea, 5% had acquired chlamydia and none of the participants had syphilis (Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 11/03). Farley said that he hoped the pilot study would lead to further examination of the use of antibiotics to prevent syphilis or to "counter an outbreak in at-risk populations," according to the Advocate. He also said that the study's findings are important because of the coinfection of syphilis and HIV among men who have sex with men, adding, "Controlling syphilis is really key to controlling HIV" (Baton Rouge Advocate, 11/12).

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