Incidence and Risk Factors for Early Syphilis among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Australia, 2013-2019: A Retrospective Cohort Study

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Background: We aimed to examine the incidence of syphilis in men who have sex with men (MSM) and identify subgroups of MSM at a higher risk of syphilis infection. Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of MSM attending a sexual health clinic in Australia, during 2013-2019, who had at least 2 syphilis serological tests during the study period. The incidence of syphilis was expressed as per 100 person-years. A cox regression analysis was conducted to identify risk factors for syphilis. Results: A total of 24 391 individual MSM (75 086 consultations) were included. A total of 1404 new syphilis cases were diagnosed with an incidence of 3.7/100 person-years (95% confidence interval, 3.5-3.9). Syphilis incidence was higher in MSM with human immunodeficiency virus ([HIV] 9.3/100 person-years) than in MSM taking HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) (6.9/100 person-years) or HIV-negative MSM not taking PrEP (2.2/100 person-years). Risk factors associated with high incidence of syphilis included the following: MSM with HIV (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 2.7), MSM taking HIV PrEP (aHR 2.1), past history of syphilis infection (aHR 2.4), injecting drug use (aHR 2.7), condomless anal sex (aHR 1.7), >4 sexual partners in the last 12 months (aHR 1.2), and concurrent sexually transmitted infection (chlamydia and gonorrhoea) (aHR 1.6). Conclusions: The incidence of syphilis remains high among MSM, particularly in subgroups with associated risk factors for syphilis infections. These data highlight the need for biomedical and behavioral interventions to be targeted to subgroups of MSM at the highest risk of syphilis infection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberofad017
Number of pages10
JournalOpen Forum Infectious Diseases
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • incidence
  • men who have sex with men
  • risk factors
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • syphilis

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