Background: The resurgence of infectious syphilis in men who have sex with men (MSM) has been documented worldwide; however, HIV coinfection and syphilis reinfections in MSM in inner Sydney have not been published.
Methods: For all laboratory syphilis notifications assessed as a newly notified case or reinfection, a questionnaire was sent to the requesting physician seeking demographic data and disease classification. Sex of partner and HIV status were collected for all infectious syphilis notifications in men received from 1 April 2006 to March 2011.
Results: From April 2001 to March 2011, 3664 new notifications were received, 2278 (62%) were classified as infectious syphilis. Infectious syphilis notifications increased 12-fold from 25 to 303 in the first and last year respectively, and almost all notifications were in men (2220, 97.5%). During April 2006 to March 2011, 1562 infectious syphilis notifications in males were received and 765 (49%) of these men were HIV-positive and 1351 (86%) reported a male sex partner. Reinfections increased over time from 17 (9%) to 56 (19%) in the last year of the study and were significantly more likely to be in HIV-positive individuals (χ2 = 140.92, degrees of freedom= 1, P = <0.001).
Conclusion: Inner Sydney is experiencing an epidemic of infectious syphilis in MSM and about half of these cases are in HIV-positive patients. Reinfections are increasing and occur predominantly in HIV-positive men. Accurate surveillance information is needed to inform effective prevention programs, and community and clinician education needs to continue until a sustained reduction is achieved.