Elimination and reintroduction of primary and secondary syphilis

Am J Public Health. 1999 Jul;89(7):1093-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.89.7.1093.


Objectives: This study was conducted to define factors associated with the epidemic spread, elimination, and reintroduction of primary and secondary syphilis in King County, Washington, from 1987 through 1998.

Methods: Reports of primary and secondary syphilis in King County from 1987 through 1998 were reviewed retrospectively.

Results: During the epidemic spread of syphilis, only 15.8% of cases were imported. A total of 24.0% of patients reported cocaine use, and 18.3% of female patients reported having commercial sex. During the elimination of syphilis, significantly higher percentages of cases were imported and lower percentages of patients reported cocaine use or female commercial sex. During the reintroduction of syphilis in 1997-1998, 68% of patients were men who reported sex with men; of this 68%, 66% were sero-positive for HIV. Most men reporting sex with men were 30 years or older and recruited many anonymous partners.

Conclusions: As syphilis wanes, local control must focus on outbreaks following its reintroduction. Resurgence of syphilis among men reporting sex with men recapitulates the epidemiology of syphilis before the historical advent of AIDS, warranting immediate attention to this problem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Syphilis / epidemiology*
  • Syphilis / prevention & control
  • Washington / epidemiology