Syphilis reinfections pose problems for syphilis diagnosis in Antwerp, Belgium - 1992 to 2012

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Persons with multiple syphilis reinfections may play an important role in syphilis transmission. We analysed all syphilis tests carried out for people attending the HIV/sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinic at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium, from 1992 to 2012 to evaluate the extent to which syphilis reinfections were contributing to the syphilis epidemic in Antwerp. We then characterised the features of the syphilis infections in individuals with five or more episodes of syphilis. A total of 729 syphilis episodes were diagnosed in 454 persons. The majority of syphilis episodes occurred in people who had more than one episode of syphilis (445/729; 61%). A total of 10 individuals had five or more episodes of syphilis diagnosed over this period. All were men who have sex with men, HIV positive and on antiretroviral therapy. They had a total of 52 episodes of syphilis diagnosed and treated. In 38/42 of the episodes of repeat syphilis in these 10 individuals, they presented without any signs or symptoms of syphilis. Given that the majority of cases of incident syphilis in our clinic were persons with reinfections and that they frequently presented without signs of symptoms of syphilis, there is a strong case for frequent and repeated screening in all persons with a diagnosis of syphilis.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number45
Pages (from-to)pii=20958
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Belgium
  • HIV Infections
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Recurrence
  • Syphilis
  • Syphilis Serodiagnosis
  • Treponema pallidum


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