Sixty-seven transvestite prostitutes from Latin America (49 from Brazil and 18 from Colombia) who attended an HIV unit located in the inner city of Rome between January 1991 and June 1992 were studied for syphilis markers by means of both the Treponema pallidum haemoagglutination test (TPHA) and a solid phase haemadsorption test for detection of specific IgM (SPHA-IgM) which are typically present in recent infections. All participants reported more than 500 sexual partners in the past year, and 67.1% of them more than 1500 partners (between 5 and 10 partners per working day). The overall prevalence of anti-HIV antibodies in this population was 65.7%. The prevalence of positive TPHA tests in the population studied was 73.1%, while that of positive SPHA-IgM tests was 10.4%. The prevalence of positive TPHA and SPHA-IgM tests was higher among Colombians than among Brazilians (83.3% vs 69.4% and 22.2% vs 6.1%, respectively) and also showed a positive correlation with the duration of their permanence in Italy. The TPHA and SPHA-IgM positivities were significantly higher among subjects older than 29 years. Positive TPHA was also significantly higher in subjects who reported a history of heroin and/or cocaine abuse while positive SPHA-IgM was higher in subjects who did not use condoms or reported irregular use of them than in subjects who regularly used condoms. No overall correlation was evident between TPHA positivity and anti-HIV positivity, while SPHA-IgM positivity was found to be higher among anti-HIV-negative subjects. The population studied, therefore, apparently represents a relevant source for syphilis (in addition to HIV) transmission, due to the high number of sexual partners and to the overall irregular use of condoms, and it is likely that similar populations can largely contribute the maintenance of syphilis in industrialized countries. Fluorescent anti-treponemal antibody-absorption (FTA-ABS) and rapid plasma reagin (RPR) tests were also performed on all serum samples. Results of FTA-ABS were fully consistent with those of TPHA, while a lower degree of concordance was observed between RPR and TPHA.
- HIV infection
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