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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Syphilis epidemiology in Norway, 1992-2008: resurgence among men who have sex with men

Irena Jakopanec1, Andrej M Grjibovski123, Øivind Nilsen1 and Preben Aavitsland1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, N-0403 Oslo, Norway

2 Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

3 International School of Public Health, Northern State Medical University, Arkhangelsk, Russia

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:105  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-105

Published: 29 April 2010

Abstract

Background

In recent years, the number of syphilis cases has stabilised in many countries of Western Europe, however several countries have reported increases among men who have sex with men (MSM). The aim of this article was to describe the epidemiology of early syphilis in Norway in 1992-2008.

Methods

Cases of early syphilis and congenital syphilis reported to the Norwegian Surveillance System for Communicable Diseases (MSIS) 1992-2008 were described by route of transmission, gender, age, birthplace, stage of disease, HIV co-infection, source partner and place of infection.

Results

The incidence of reported syphilis ranged from 0.05 (1992) to 1.50 (2002) per 100 000 person-years. Of 562 cases reported to MSIS during the study period, 62% were men infected by another man. The proportion of those, infected homosexually increased from 0 (1992-1994) to 77% (2008). Most of them were Norwegians (83%). The proportion of HIV co-infection among homosexually infected increased over time and reached 39% in 2008. The majority reported being infected by a casual partner (73%) and in the municipality of Oslo (72%). Of 152 heterosexually infected men 64% were Norwegians; 51% were infected by casual contacts and 20% by commercial sex workers; 73% were infected abroad. Among 56 women, 57% were Norwegians, 57% were infected by a steady partner and 40% were infected abroad. Almost half (46%) were diagnosed in the early latent stage. Four cases had congenital syphilis, two of whom were adopted from abroad.

Conclusions

Syphilis is rare in Norway, but MSM represent almost two thirds of cases. The increase of HIV co-infected cases among MSM may enhance transmission of both infections. We recommend sexually active MSM to be tested for syphilis 2-4 times a year. Due to its variable clinical course, syphilis might be difficult to recognise at an early stage among women in a low-prevalence population. We estimate current practice of prenatal screening in Norway as sufficient.