Incident syphilis leads to changes in plasma HIV-1 RNA and CD4 + T-cell level in people with HIV (PWH) with viraemia. Its effect in PWH on suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART) is less clear.
PWH on suppressive ART (plasma HIV-1 RNA < 50copies/mL) followed at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hong Kong, China were regularly screened for syphilis. Their plasma HIV-1 RNA, CD4 + and CD8 + T-cell, and total lymphocyte levels before syphilis, during syphilis, and after successful treatment were compared.
Between 2005 and 2020, 288 syphilis episodes from 180 individuals were identified; 287 episodes were related to male, with a median age of 41 at diagnosis; 221 (77%) were syphilis re-infection. The rates of plasma HIV-1 suppression were statistically unchanged across the time-points (97% pre-syphilis, 98% during syphilis, and 99% post-treatment). Total lymphocyte, CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell levels decreased during incident syphilis (p<0.01), and rebounded post-treatment (p<0.01). VDRL titre was associated with declines in CD4+ T-cell (p=0.045), CD8+ T-cell (p=0.004), and total lymphocyte levels (p=0.021). Pre-syphilis CD4/CD8 ratio was associated with increases in CD8+ T-cell (p=0.001) and total lymphocyte levels (p=0.046) during syphilis. Syphilis re-infection was associated with an increase in total lymphocyte level (p=0.037). In the multivariable analysis, only pre-syphilis CD4/CD8 ratio was independently associated with increases in CD8+ T-cell (p=0.014) and total lymphocyte levels (p=0.039) during syphilis.
Among virally-suppressed PWH, total lymphocyte, CD4+, and CD8+ T-cell levels declined during incident syphilis but rebounded post-treatment. The status of plasma HIV suppression was unaffected by syphilis.

© 2022. The Author(s).