Case Reports

Subacute loss of vision in one eye • rash on hands and feet • plaques with scaling on genitals • Dx?

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► Subacute loss of vision in one eye
► Rash on hands and feet
► Plaques with scaling on genitals




A 67-year-old man presented to the hospital with subacute loss of vision in his left eye. The visual changes began 2 weeks earlier, with a central area of visual loss that had since progressed to near complete vision loss in the left eye.

Hyperkeratotic rash on feet image

Physical examination revealed patchy alopecia, a scaling and hyperkeratotic rash of his hands and feet (FIGURE 1), and blanching, erythematous plaques with associated scaling on the scrotum and glans penis. Ophthalmologic examination revealed 1/200 vision in his left eye with a large plaque occupying a substantial portion of the superior quadrant, smaller perifoveal plaques in both of his eyes, and a small infiltrate above the left optic nerve head (FIGURE 2). The patient also described fatigue, loss of taste, and an unintentional weight loss of 7 to 10 kg over the previous 6 months. He had seen his primary care provider 3 months prior for a burning sensation and scaling rash on his feet and hands, and was prescribed a topical steroid.

Treatment of retinal infiltrate image

The patient’s social history was relevant for intermittent condom use with 6 lifetime female partners, but it was negative for new sexual partners, sexual contact with men, intravenous drug use, tattoos, blood transfusions, or travel outside the state. His medical history was significant for hypertension.

Routine laboratory tests were remarkable for an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate of 53 mm/hr (normal: 0-15 mm/hr) and a C-reactive protein of 5.3 mg/dL (normal: <0.5 mg/dL). Lumbar puncture revealed a white blood cell count of 133 cells/mcL (normal: 0-5 cells/mcL) with 87% lymphocytes and protein elevated to 63 mg/dL (normal: 15-40 mg/dL).

Other tests were ordered and included a serum fourth-generation ELISA to screen for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 and HIV-2, a cerebrospinal fluid venereal disease research laboratory (CSF-VDRL) test, a syphilis IgG screen and reflexive rapid plasma reagin (RPR) quantitation, and tests for cytomegalovirus antibodies, antinuclear antibody, rheumatoid factor, and Toxoplasma antibodies. Punch biopsy of the patient’s palmar skin changes was also performed; Steiner stain and spirochete immunohistochemical stain were applied to the sample. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and orbit was unremarkable.


The patient’s HIV screening test came back positive and was followed by confirmation of HIV-1 antibody, with an HIV viral load of 61,000 copies/mL and a CD4 count of 383 cells/mm3. The CSF-VDRL test and serum syphilis IgG were also positive, and the RPR titer was 1:16. The Steiner and spirochete immunohistochemical stains confirmed the presence of treponemes in the epidermis (FIGURE 3). Taken together, these findings confirmed a unifying diagnosis of ocular syphilis and syphilitic keratoderma with concomitant HIV.

Skin biosy results image

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