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Circulation of Distinct Treponema pallidum Strains in Individuals with Heterosexual Orientation and Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM).

Human treponematosis is caused by various pathogenic Treponema pallidum sub-species (subsp.), including pallidum (TPA), pertenue (TPE), endemicum (TEN), and carateum. The global prevalence of syphilis has been increasing since the 2000s. Men account for more than 90% of the cases, with the majority being men who have sex with men (MSM). In Japan, the increase in the number of syphilis patients began in 2011, a 10-year delay from the global trend. In 2017, a total of 5,829 syphilis cases (3,934 men and 1,895 women) were reported, with an outstanding increase in cases among young adult women; the number reported for women aged 15 to 20 years was 1100. Hence, a molecular epidemiological study was conducted on circulating T. pallidum strains using two strain-typing methods, the enhanced CDC method and sequencing-based molecular typing. Clinical specimens from 95 adults suspected of syphilis were collected from September 2013 to August 2017 in Osaka, Japan. T. pallidum DNA was detected in specimens from 25 males and 11 females, including seven MSM. The majority of the heterosexual patients (66.7% and 90.9% of male and female, respectively) were positive for 14d/f-SSR8. In contrast, the genotypes identified in the MSM group were significantly divergent. TEN was notably identified in two MSM patients. Macrolide-sensitive or Nichols-like strains were significantly associated with the MSM group. These data suggested that distinct T. pallidum strains were circulating in the heterosexual and MSM groups. Our findings imply that independent factors may contribute to the increased syphilis prevalence in heterosexual and MSM populations.

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