Background: We examined the extent of partner notification for men who have sex with men (MSM) who were diagnosed with syphilis, and offered referral to a partner notification officer (PNO), to assist them with informing recent sexual partners.
Methods: Between October 2013 and March 2015, MSM diagnosed with syphilis at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre were routinely offered a referral to a PNO. The outcomes of this intervention were evaluated including the proportion of men who accepted PNO services and the number of sexual partners informed by the PNO.
Results: There were 380 MSM diagnosed with syphilis. Those with primary or secondary syphilis reported a total of 813 partners over 3 months and those with early latent syphilis reported a total of 1400 partners over 12 months. Sixty nine percent of index men (n = 262) had documented discussion of partner notification, 34% (n = 128) accepted PNO referral, and 28% (n = 105) were contacted by the PNO, 58 of whom reported they had already notified partners themselves. Only 14 index men (4%) provided the PNO with contact details for 28 partners, 25 of whom were notified by the PNO. Among those interviewed, the most common barrier to partner notification was the presence of anonymous partners and absence of contact details for partners.
Conclusions: Despite offering an effective PNO service in our centre, ultimately only 4% of MSM with syphilis had at least 1 partner notified by the PNO with patients declining the PNO service and anonymous partners posing the major barriers. Alternative patient initiated methods for improving partner notification for syphilis among MSM using newer communication technologies are required.