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    Antibiotic Pill Can Treat Early Syphilis

    Study: A Single Azithromycin Pill Works as Well as 1 Penicillin Shot

    About Syphilis continued...

    A government plan to wipe out syphilis was launched in 1999. Progress has been made but "syphilis remains an important problem in the South and in some urban areas in other regions of the country," states the CDC's web site.

    For instance, Minnesota's health department reported that syphilis cases among gay and bisexual men dropped in 2004 but rose during the first half of 2005.

    Minnesota had 43 reported cases of early syphilis among gay or bisexual men as of June 1, 2005. That's up from 18 cases during the first half of 2004, states a Minnesota health alert.

    Syphilis Study

    The new syphilis treatment study was done in Mbeya, Tanzania. It included 25 adults with primary syphilis and 303 with latent syphilis.

    The patients were 27 years old, on average. They were patients at a sexually transmitted infection clinic, traditional brew sellers, or women who worked in bars. None of the women were pregnant.

    About half of the patients were also HIV positive (52%). Syphilis can make someone three to five times more likely to get and spread HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

    Patients either got a single azithromycin pill or a shot of penicillin. They were followed for nine months, though some were late for scheduled checkups.

    There was "clear evidence" that the pill and shot worked equally well for treating early syphilis, write the researchers.

    The drug company Pfizer donated the pills but had no other involvement in the study, the researchers note. Pfizer is a WebMD sponsor.

    Antibiotic Resistance?

    There have been reports of azithromycin resistance in the bacteria that causes syphilis.

    No such resistance was seen in this study, but it's important to monitor azithromycin resistance, note the researchers.

    Possible resistance is a reason to be "cautious" about using azithromycin to treat early syphilis, writes King Holmes, MD, PhD, in a journal editorial.

    Holmes urges close follow-up of any patients -- anywhere in the world -- who are treated with azithromycin for early syphilis.

    The penicillin shots still work, notes Holmes. He works at the University of Washington's department of medicine and Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

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