Syphilis Eye Infections Are Reported in L.A. County

Two cases of ocular syphilis — a sexually-transmitted disease that can cause blindness — have been reported in Los Angeles, leading the L.A. County Public Health Department and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to warn doctors and gay men to be on the alert for symptoms associated with the disease.

Ocular syphilis
Ocular syphilis
To date there have been 14 confirmed cases of the disease on the West Coast since December. Eight were in San Francisco and six in Washington state. Two of those infected in Seattle have become blind.

“These new cases of ocular syphilis highlight the importance of ongoing, regular check-ups for sexually-active individuals who feel they may be at risk, particularly men who have sex with men,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “We call on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to step up and do more to alert and educate medical providers about ocular syphilis.”

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, can enter the eye when an infected person touches the infected area of his body and then touches his eye. Symptoms of ocular syphilis may include blurred vision, eye pain and seeing floating spots flashing lights. Syphilis can be treated easily with penicillin, but if left untreated ocular syphilis can lead to blindness.

There has been an increase in syphilis cases in recent years, largely among gay men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 17.5 cases per 100,000 men in the state, second only to the rate in Georgia.

AHF has launched a campaign focused on syphilis. It includes billboards that show a volcanic landscape labeled “Syphilis Explosion.” Places where sexually active men can be tested for sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis can be found at freestdcheck.org.