[Ocular syphilis]

J Fr Ophtalmol. 2014 Apr;37(4):329-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jfo.2013.12.006. Epub 2014 Mar 18.
[Article in French]


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by Treponema pallidum. Previously known as the "great imitator", this disease can have numerous and complex manifestations. The ophthalmologist should suspect the diagnosis in patients with uveitis or optic neuropathy and high-risk sexual behavior and/or another sexually transmitted disease (such as HIV) or those presenting with posterior placoid chorioretinitis or necrotising retinitis. Ocular involvement in acquired syphilis is rare, tending to occur during the secondary and tertiary stages of the disease. Syphilis may affect all the structures of the eye, but uveitis (accounting for 1-5% of the uveitis in a tertiary referral center) is the most common ocular finding. Granulomatous or non-granulomatous iridocyclitis (71%), panuveitis, posterior uveitis (8%) and keratouveitis (8%) are often described. In the secondary stage, the meninges and the central nervous system can be affected, sometimes with no symptoms, which justifies performing lumbar puncture in patients with uveitis and/or optic neuropathy. The diagnosis of ocular syphilis requires screening with a non-treponemal serology and confirmation with a treponemal-specific test. Parenterally administered penicillin G is considered first-line therapy for all stages of ocular syphilis. Systemic corticosteroids are an appropriate adjunct treatment for posterior uveitis, scleritis and optic neuritis if ocular inflammation is severe. Prolonged follow-up is necessary because of the possibility of relapse of the disease. With proper diagnosis and prompt antibiotic treatment, the majority of cases of ocular syphilis can be cured.

Keywords: Ceftriaxone; Chorioretinitis; Choriorétinite; Human immunodeficiency virus; Maladie sexuellement transmissible; Neuropathie optique; Optic neuropathy; Sexually transmitted disease; Syphilis; Uveitis; Uvéite.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Trees
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial* / diagnosis
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Syphilis* / diagnosis
  • Syphilis* / therapy
  • Uveitis / diagnosis
  • Uveitis / microbiology
  • Uveitis / therapy