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Syphilitic aseptic meningitis

Meningitis - syphilitic; Neurosyphilis - syphilitic meningitis

Syphilitic aseptic meningitis, or syphilitic meningitis, is a complication of untreated syphilis. It involves inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord caused by this bacterial infection.

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Central nervous system and peripheral nervous system
Primary syphilis
Syphilis - secondary on the palms
Late-stage syphilis
CSF cell count
CSF test for syphilis

Causes

Syphilitic meningitis is a form of neurosyphilis. This condition is a life-threatening complication of syphilis infection. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection.

Syphilitic meningitis is similar to meningitis caused by other germs (organisms).

Risks for syphilitic meningitis include a past infection with syphilis or other sexually transmitted illnesses such as gonorrhea. Syphilis infections are mainly spread through sex with an infected person. Sometimes, they may be passed by nonsexual contact.

Symptoms

Symptoms of syphilitic meningitis may include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show problems with the nerves, including nerves that control eye movement.

Tests may include:

If screening tests show a syphilis infection, more tests are done to confirm the diagnosis. Tests include:

Treatment

The goals of treatment are to cure the infection and stop symptoms from getting worse. Treating the infection helps prevent new nerve damage and may reduce symptoms. Treatment does not reverse existing damage.

Medicines likely to be given include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Some people may need help eating, dressing, and caring for themselves. Confusion and other mental changes may either improve or continue long-term after antibiotic treatment.

Late-stage syphilis can cause nerve or heart damage. This can lead to disability and death.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number if you have seizures.

Call your provider if you have a severe headache with fever or other symptoms, especially if you have a history of syphilis infection.

Prevention

Proper treatment and follow-up of syphilis infections will reduce the risk of developing this type of meningitis.

If you are sexually active, practice safer sex and always use condoms.

All pregnant women should be screened for syphilis.

Related Information

Confusion
Neurosyphilis
Meningitis
Headache

References

Hasbun R, van de Beek D, Brouwer MC, Tunkel AR. Acute meningitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 87.

Radolf JD, Tramont EC, Salazar JC. Syphilis (Treponema pallidum). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 237.

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Review Date: 10/25/2020  

Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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