Nongranulomatous Uveitis as the First Manifestation of Syphilis

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The incidence of syphilis appears to be increasing in recent years. Although any structure of the eye can be involved in syphilis, isolated unilateral anterior uveitis as an initial sign of the disease is rare. We report a case of ocular syphilis presenting as a mild unilateral, nongranulomatous, anterior uveitis in an otherwise asymptomatic patient.

Case Report

A 64-year-old white male patient presented with a 3-day history of mildly reduced vision, photophobia, and pain in his left eye. The patient denied prior occurrences, and no contributing ocular or medical history was elicited. Entering corrected distance acuities were 20/25+ in the right eye and 20/20- in the left eye. Slit lamp examination of the left eye revealed a moderate circumlimbal flush, numerous fine keratic precipitates, and mild-to-moderate white blood cells in the anterior chamber. The patient was diagnosed as having acute, idiopathic, nongranulomatous, anterior uveitis, and topical steroid/cycloplegic treatment was initiated. Despite an initially positive, although somewhat sluggish response to treatment, the patient’s uveitis suddenly worsened on day 44, exhibiting increased anterior chamber cells, several mutton-fat keratic precipitates, and elevated intraocular pressure. Systemic diagnostic workup led to the diagnosis of neurosyphilis, and the patient subsequently admitted to high-risk sexual behaviors. Treatment with intravenous aqueous penicillin-G 24 million units per day for 14 days led to complete resolution of uveitis. The case was reported to the local health department within 24 h of syphilis diagnosis.


Syphilis, although an uncommon cause of ocular inflammation, is a highly contagious, but curable disease. Given its potentially devastating neurologic consequences, syphilis should be considered in all patients presenting with uveitis. A high index of clinical suspicion and a detailed sexual history are crucial for the accurate and timely diagnosis of ocular syphilis.

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