Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the prevalence and risk factors of syphilis infection among female sex workers in a southwestern Chinese city along a drug trafficking route.
Methods: From December 2004 to January 2005, 343 female sex workers (FSWs) were recruited through community outreach and peer referring. Confidential questionnaire interviews were administered to collect information on sexual and other sexually transmitted diseases/HIV risk behaviors. Cervical and blood samples were collected to test for syphilis and HIV antibodies and Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection; Condyloma acuminatum infection was diagnosed clinically.
Results: Of 343 FSWs, 15.7% were infected with syphilis. The prevalence of HIV, gonorrhea, and C. acuminatum was 0.6%, 2.0%, and 1.5%, respectively. The subtype of 2 HIV-1 infections was both CRF 07BC. Nearly 10% of FSWs reported using illicit drugs. Consistent use, inconsistent use, and never use of condoms with commercial sex clients in the last month were reported by 53.9%, 38.5%, and 7.6% FSWs, respectively. Longer duration of sex work (odds ratio [OR] = 1.98; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.08-3.62), working at low-end establishments (OR = 2.03; 95% CI = 1.10-3.76), and if primary sex partners had sex with other women in the past 6 months (OR = 2.06; 95% CI = 1.08-3.91) were independently associated with syphilis infection.
Conclusions: High prevalence of syphilis and overlapped unprotected commercial sex and drug using behaviors among FSWs along a drug-trafficking route may suggest a potential for rapid spread of HIV from injection drug users to FSWs and then to the general population and underscore the urgency of preventive interventions to break the bridge of FSWs for HIV/sexually transmitted disease spread.