Isolated oral erosions: An unusual manifestation of secondary syphilis
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/D34mt2626g
Isolated oral erosions: An unusual manifestation of secondary syphilisU.O.C. Dermatology, II Unit University of Rome "La Sapienza"
M Carlesimo, E Palese, E Mari, G Feliziani, M La Pietra, G De Marco, G Camplone
Dermatology Online Journal 14 (2): 23
The oral cavity is the most common extragenital site of infection. We report a case of a 50-year-old female with isolated oral ulceration as the presenting manifestation of secondary syphilis. In contrast with the oral lesions of primary syphilis, which tend to be solitary, painless, indurated ulcers, oral lesions of secondary syphilis are typically painful, multiple, and accompanied by a concomitant cutaneous eruption.
Syphilis is an ancient spirochetal illness with myriad dermatologic and systemic manifestations; for this reason it is called the great imitator. The incidence of many sexually transmitted diseases is increasing; we are noting re-emergence of old diseases and altered clinical scenarios.
Oral lesions in second-stage syphilis are particularly common when associated with general symptoms and cutaneous eruption. However, the exclusive oral localization, not associated with general manifestations, is uncommon [1, 2]. We report a case of isolated oral ulceration as the sole presentation of secondary syphilis.
|Figure 1. Oral serpiginous erosions with a "snail-track" appearance and an erythematous border|
In November 2005 a 50-year-old female was admitted to our dermatology unit for a 5-month history of painful ulcerations that presented exclusively in her mouth. The lesions were circular, tender, serpiginous erosions, with a "snail-track" appearance and an erythematosus border (Fig. 1). Physical examination did not reveal skin or genital lesions and the patient stated that she had not had any such lesions in the past 5 months. She had submandibular lymph node enlargement. Her only additional complaint was general slight asthenia. The patient denied any extramarital sexual relationships. The patient was initially treated with acyclovir (200mg 5 times per day for 10 days) for presumed herpesvirus infection without beneficial response.
All laboratory exams including white blood cell count, platelets, hematocrit, protein electrophoresis, antinuclear antibody, serology for HIV, urinalysis, hepatitis-associated antigen, creatine phosphokinase, prothrombin time, partial thromboplastin time and C3, C4 were unremarkable. A biopsy with direct immunofluorescence (DIF) demonstrated a dense inflammatory infiltrate composed of lymphocytes and plasmocytes with endothelial cell swelling. The DIF was negative. Serologic tests for syphilis revealed the following results: venereal diseases research laboratory (VDRL) was positive; Treponema pallidum hemagglutination (TPHA) was positive 1/20,480; fluorescent treponemal antibody absorbed assay (FTA-ABS) IgG was greater than 1/125; IgM was absent.
Clinical data, histological analysis, and serologic tests led us to the diagnosis of secondary syphilis. Therefore, we treated the patient with penicillin G benzathine (1.2 mU each week for 3 weeks) associated with betamethasone (4 mg IM each week for 2 weeks) to avoid Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. A complete resolution of lesions was obtained within 10 days.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by Treponema pallidum infection and manifesting with skin, mucous membrane, and systemic lesions. This wide array of manifestations has given syphilis the reputation as a great imitator. In the last 20 years there has been a gradual increase in new cases of syphilis .
Typical mucous membrane lesions tend to be oval, serpiginous, raised erosions or ulcers with an erythematosus border. There is an overlying grey or silver membrane. Sometimes these lesions can appear as leukokeratosis and involve the tongue, the mucosal lip, or the palate. Prior descriptions suggest that these lesions usually heal within 3-12 weeks regardless of treatment [1, 7].
Usually the spirochetemia of secondary syphilis is associated with systemic symptoms and a cutaneous eruption; rarely there may be spirochetemia without cutaneous manifestations. The oral cavity is the most common extragenital site of infection, although isolated oral ulcerations in secondary syphilis are unusual . In fact there are only a few reports of secondary syphilis presenting with isolated oral lesions [1, 4]. In contrast with oral lesions of primary syphilis, which tend to be solitary, painless, indurated ulcers, oral lesions of secondary syphilis are typically painful and multiple. They are usually accompanied by a concomitant cutaneous eruption [5, 6].
Lesional histopathology is not diagnostic; histological features of secondary syphilis are very variable, as are the clinical lesions [3, 8]. Endothelial cell swelling, perivascular infiltrates with a preponderance of plasma cells, and epidermal psoriasiform hyperplasia may be observed.
The differential diagnosis of oral lesions of secondary syphilis includes erythema multiforme, stomatitis, pemphigus, lichen, candidosis, oral gonorrhoea, and other sexually transmitted diseases [9, 10, 11].
We present our case because of the rare presentation of localized oral lesions of secondary syphilis for 5 months with the absence of skin lesions. There are only a few reports of secondary syphilis presenting with isolated oral lesions. Moreover, we emphasize the atypically long duration of the oral involvement.
Syphilis is a highly infectious disease. It is important that clinicians maintain a high clinical index of suspicion and crucial that an accurate diagnosis be made at presentation.
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