Prevalence and risk factors associated with HIV and syphilis co-infection in the African Cohort Study: a cross-sectional study

the AFRICOS Study Group

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13 Scopus citations


Background: Each year, 5.6 million new syphilis cases are diagnosed globally. Guidelines for people living with HIV (PLWH) in low-income countries (LIC) recommend STI testing for symptomatic persons and those newly diagnosed with HIV; routine STI testing is less clear. Here we provide updated syphilis prevalence and identify co-infection risk factors in PLWH in the African Cohort Study (AFRICOS) to understand these rates as they relate to syndromic treatment. Methods: AFRICOS is a study enrolling PLWH and HIV-uninfected individuals in four African countries. Participant study enrollment information was used to determine syphilis prevalence and co-infection risk factors. Inclusion criteria consisted of adults 18 years or older receiving care at a participating clinic as a long-term resident who consented to data and specimen collection. Exclusion criteria consisted of pregnancy and/or imprisonment. Screen-positive syphilis was defined as a reactive rapid plasma regain (RPR) upon study enrollment whereas confirmed syphilis included a reactive RPR followed by reactive treponemal test. Multivariate analyses was performed to determine HIV and syphilis co-infection risk factors. Results: Between 2013 and March 1, 2020, 2939 PLWH enrolled and 2818 were included for analysis. Screen-positive and confirmed syphilis prevalence were 5.3% (151/2818) and 3.1% (87/2818), respectively. When the analysis was restricted to PLWH with an RPR titer of greater than, or equal to, 1:8, 11/87 (12.6%) participants were included. No PLWH and confirmed syphilis had documented genital ulcers. In the multivariate model, participants with confirmed syphilis co-infection were more likely to have none or some primary education [aOR 3.29 (1.60, 6.74)] and consume alcohol [aOR 1.87 (1.16, 3.03)] compared to those without syphilis. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) with suppressed viral load (VL) was protective in the unadjusted model but not adjusted multivariate model. Conclusions: Our findings show that syphilis rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain elevated where diagnosis remains challenging, and that both lower education level and alcohol consumption are significantly associated with HIV/syphilis co-infection in AFRICOS. Based on our analysis, current STI guidelines targeting testing for African individuals with either new HIV diagnosis or syndromic symptoms may be inadequate, highlighting the need for increased testing and treatment strategies in resource-limited settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1123
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Africa
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Syphilis


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