High frequency of the 23S rRNA A2058G mutation of Treponema pallidum in Shanghai is associated with a current strategy for the treatment of syphilis.Emerg Microbes Infect. 2015 Feb; 4(2):e10.EM
The preferred drugs for the treatment of syphilis, benzathine and procaine penicillin, have not been available in Shanghai for many years, and currently, the incidence of syphilis is increasing. Alternative antibiotics for patients with syphilis during the benzathine and procaine penicillin shortage include macrolides. The failure of macrolide treatment in syphilis patients has been reported in Shanghai, but the reason for this treatment failure remains unclear. We used polymerase chain reaction technology to detect a 23S rRNA A2058G mutation in Treponema pallidum in 109 specimens from syphilis patients. The use of azithromycin/erythromycin in the syphilis patients and the physicians' prescription habits were also assessed based on two questionnaires regarding the use of macrolides. A total of 104 specimens (95.4%) were positive for the A2058G mutation in both copies of the 23S rRNA gene, indicating macrolide resistance. A questionnaire provided to 122 dermatologists showed that during the penicillin shortage, they prescribed erythromycin and azithromycin for 8.24±13.95% and 3.21±6.37% of their patients, respectively, and in the case of penicillin allergy, erythromycin and azithromycin were prescribed 15.24±22.89% and 7.23±16.60% of the time, respectively. A second questionnaire provided to the syphilis patients showed that 150 (33.7%), 106 (23.8%) and 34 (7.6%) individuals had used azithromycin, erythromycin or both, respectively, although the majority did not use the drugs for syphilis treatment. Our findings suggest that macrolide resistance in Treponema pallidum is widespread in Shanghai. More than half of the syphilis patients had a history of macrolide use for other treatment purposes, which may have led to the high prevalence of macrolide resistance. Physicians in China are advised to not use azithromycin for early syphilis.