Eye syphilis outbreak: CDC warns disease has spread to more than 200 people across 20 states
11/12/2017 // Janine Acero // Views

There has been a steady rise in reported cases of eye syphilis infection in the U.S., according to health officials.

Cases of ocular syphilis were once rare, but have been steadily gaining ground in the U.S. – from data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 12 cases were initially reported from two major cities – San Francisco and Seattle – between December 2014 and March 2015, and more than 200 cases in total were reported from 20 states, between 2014 and 2016.

Ocular syphilis develops out of a syphilis infection in the spinal cord that has spread to the eye. According to the CDC, it can involve any eye structure and can blur the vision and even cause permanent blindness, if diagnosed incorrectly or left untreated.

CDC findings have reported that majority of cases have been among HIV-infected MSM (men who have sex with men), but a few cases have occurred among those uninfected including heterosexual men and women. CDC advises that "all patients with syphilis should receive an HIV test if status is unknown or previously HIV-negative."

CDC added that clinicians must be on the look-out for ocular syphilis and screen any patient for vision-related complaints, especially those most at risk such as HIV-infected persons, MSM, persons with multiple or anonymous partners, and others with risk factors.

The rate of sexually-transmitted diseases has skyrocketed in the U.S., with the biggest increase seen in cases of congenital syphilis at 27.6 percent between 2015 and 2016. The rate of primary and secondary syphilis infections went up 17.6 percent since 2015. (Related: HIV transmission MYTH totally blown away by new science: Unprotected sex with HIV-infected partners produces almost ZERO new infections.)


This report was featured in the Daily Mail.

Facts about syphilis

Syphilis is a chronic bacterial disease, caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. It is typically contracted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, but can be transmitted by other means. In rare cases, it is contracted through prolonged kissing. Some diagnoses could be delayed as symptoms often manifest similarly to other conditions.

According to CDC, syphilis has several stages – primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. The symptoms are characterized by painless sores in the primary stage; and skin rash, swollen lymph nodes and fever in the second stage. Interestingly, the latent stage of the infection will not manifest any symptoms.

However, "tertiary syphilis is associated with severe medical problems. A doctor can usually diagnose tertiary syphilis with the help of multiple tests. It can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body," according to CDC.

An injection of penicillin will help eliminate the infection in its early stages. For those with latent syphilis, but are unsure for how long they've had the disease, doctors recommend having three doses of penicillin injection every seven days.

As previously mentioned, the symptoms of this infection can be mistaken with common conditions, and ocular syphilis may manifest as other types of eye infection at first glance. One such case was that of a 55-year-old woman who was initially diagnosed with bilateral progressive retinal vasculitis, but repeated serological tests revealed the true nature of the infection after her vision continued to deteriorate.

According to the National Institutes of Health: "Ocular syphilis has no typical manifestation and the serologic tests are insufficiently sensitive, especially in late-stage syphilis. These often lead to delayed diagnosis and antibiotic management."

For more clinical advisories about infectious disease outbreaks, visit Outbreak.news.

Sources include:


CDC.gov 1

CDC.gov 2


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