Effect of syphilis infection on HIV acquisition: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

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Co-infection of syphilis and HIV remains hard to manage and its morbidity shows a rising tendency. Syphilis has been associated with increased risk of HIV acquisition in high-risk groups, especially in men who have sex with men (MSM). This systematic review and meta-analysis estimates the effect of syphilis infection on subsequent HIV acquisition, and assesses its difference between MSM and other high-risk populations.Five electronic databases were searched for literature published to 21 September 2019 without language restrictions. Longitudinal studies that enrolled key populations to compare the incidence of HIV with and without syphilis exposure were included. We used a random-effects model to estimate the effect of syphilis infection on HIV acquisition among high-risk populations, which include MSM, sex workers, serodiscordant couples, people who inject drugs and attendees of STD clinics.A total of 17 cohorts and 5 case-control studies involving 65 232 participants were included. HIV incidence showed a two-time increase after syphilis exposure, compared with a control group (relative risk (RR) 2.67 (95% CI 2.05 to 3.47); p<0.05 for prevalence; RR 3.21 (95% CI 2.26 to 4.57); p=0.419 for incidence). No significant differences were observed between MSM and other high-risk groups in syphilis infection prevalence (RR 2.60 (95% CI 1.78 to 3.80); p<0.05 vs RR, 2.98 (95% CI 2.15 to 4.14); p<0.05; ratio of relative risk 0.76 (95% CI 0.49 to 1.17)).Syphilis infection increases the risk of HIV acquisition in high-risk populations. There is no evidence to suggest MSM are at greater risk than other high-risk populations. Prompt diagnosis, timely treatment, preventive interventions against syphilis infection would be a worthwhile investment for reducing HIV incidence. Strategies to combat stigma and discrimination targeted at MSM are pragmatically needed.

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