Ocular Syphilis - Eight Jurisdictions, United States, 2014-2015

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 Nov 4;65(43):1185-1188. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6543a2.


Ocular syphilis, a manifestation of Treponema pallidum infection, can cause a variety of ocular signs and symptoms, including eye redness, blurry vision, and vision loss. Although syphilis is nationally notifiable, ocular manifestations are not reportable to CDC. Syphilis rates have increased in the United States since 2000. After ocular syphilis clusters were reported in early 2015, CDC issued a clinical advisory (1) in April 2015 and published a description of the cases in October 2015 (2). Because of concerns about an increase in ocular syphilis, eight jurisdictions (California, excluding Los Angeles and San Francisco, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New York City, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington) reviewed syphilis surveillance and case investigation data from 2014, 2015, or both to ascertain syphilis cases with ocular manifestations. A total of 388 suspected ocular syphilis cases were identified, 157 in 2014 and 231 in 2015. Overall, among total syphilis surveillance cases in the jurisdictions evaluated, 0.53% in 2014 and 0.65% in 2015 indicated ocular symptoms. Five jurisdictions described an increase in suspected ocular syphilis cases in 2014 and 2015. The predominance of cases in men (93%), proportion of those who are men who have sex with men (MSM), and percentage who are HIV-positive (51%) are consistent with the epidemiology of syphilis in the United States. It is important for clinicians to be aware of potential visual complications related to syphilis infections. Prompt identification of potential ocular syphilis, ophthalmologic evaluation, and appropriate treatment are critical to prevent or manage visual symptoms and sequelae of ocular syphilis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / epidemiology*
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / ethnology
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Homosexuality, Male / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Syphilis / epidemiology*
  • Syphilis / ethnology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult