Rare cluster of syphilis that infects eyes puzzles US scientists

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Five Michigan women recently contracted syphilis after having sex with the same man.

Now scientists fear that a new strain of syphilis bacteria may be behind this unusual nature of infection.

It is not uncommon for the syphilis bacterium, Treponema pallidum, to infect the eye. However, in general, it appears when it is left untreated for a long time.

That explains why experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are concerned about mutations.

“A common heterosexual partner in an ocular syphilis cluster has not been documented previously and suggests that an unknown type of T. pallidum may be associated with an increased risk of systemic manifestations of syphilis,” CDC staff wrote in their published report.


The infected women aged 40 to 60 years experienced headaches, blurred vision, eye floaters and photophobia (eye pain in bright light).

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When they all point to a sexual relationship, the man is traced and discovered to have early latent syphilis – a stage in which the disease is still present, but with no symptoms. However, he did not develop ocular syphilis and was treated with penicillin.

Why does it confuse scientists?

Eye syphilis is a very rare event, which is only a small percentage, but such cases are increasing. Typically, it affects people with late-onset syphilis, those over 65, those with a history of intravenous drug use, and those who are HIV positive.

However, none of the women involved in this epidemic fit into these categories. The occurrence of five cases in rapid succession strongly suggests the possibility of a new phenomenon. In particular, this represents the first reported cluster associated with heterosexual transmission.

Experiments on cluster central imaging revealed no new T. pallidum type could not be identified.

The analysis of the absence of lesions or lesions, critical for genetic testing, prevented the analysis.

The CDC is now raising awareness of a new strain of bacteria that can spread the disease to the eyes and other parts of the body.

(with inputs from agencies)

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