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Symptomatic and asymptomatic early neurosyphilis in HIV-infected men who have sex with men: a retrospective case series from 2000 to 2007.

Chang CC, Leslie DE, Spelman D, Chua K, Fairley CK, Street A, Crowe SM, Hoy JF

  • Journal Sexual health

  • Published 08 Sep 2011

  • Volume 8

  • ISSUE 2

  • Pagination 207-13

  • DOI 10.1071/SH10060


The rise in serious complications of early syphilis, including neurosyphilis, particularly in those with HIV infection and in men who have sex with men (MSM), is of concern.

To review the manifestations and management of neurosyphilis in a population of HIV-infected MSM.

Retrospective review of patients with HIV and early neurosyphilis in three centres in Melbourne, Australia, in 2000-07.

Eighteen male HIV patients met the criteria for diagnosis of early neurosyphilis. Thirteen patients (72.2%) had neurological symptoms: six with headache (33.3%), four with tinnitus (22.2%) and five with impaired vision (27.8%), and one patient each with ataxia, leg weakness and anal discharge with faecal incontinence. Five patients (27.8%) reported no neurological symptoms. All had serum rapid plasma reagin (RPR) titres ≥1:32 and all except one had cerebrospinal fluid positive for syphilis fluorescent treponemal antibodies-absorbed. After treatment with 14-15 days of 1.8 g intravenous benzylpenicillin 4-hourly, 12 of 17 patients (71%) demonstrated a four-fold drop in serum RPR titre over 6-12 months and were considered successfully treated. A rise in RPR was noted in three patients during the 12-month follow-up period, suggesting re-infection or recurrence.

HIV-infected patients found to have syphilis either because of symptoms or by routine screening should be carefully assessed for neurological, ophthalmic and otological symptoms and signs. A low threshold for a diagnostic lumbar puncture to exclude the diagnosis of neurosyphilis enables appropriate administration and dose of penicillin for treatment, which appears successful in ~75% of cases.