J Clin Neurosci 2013 Jul 10;20(7):943-7. Epub 2013 May 10.
Department of Neurology, Liverpool Hospital and The South Western Sydney Clinical School, University of New South Wales, Locked Bag 7017, Liverpool, New South Wales 1871, Australia.
The study aims were to determine the prevalence of positive syphilis serology and meningovascular neurosyphilis (NS) in patients admitted with transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and stroke to a tertiary hospital serving a culturally diverse community. A retrospective cohort analysis was conducted using routinely collected administrative data and medical records to identify patients admitted with TIA, stroke and other conditions, with positive syphilis serology, between 2005 and 2009. Direct medical record review confirmed diagnoses of meningovascular NS. Syphilis serology was requested in 27% (893/3270) of all patients with TIA and stroke (2005-09) of whom 4% (38/893) were positive. Thirty-seven patients with positive serology had clinical characteristics consistent with meningovascular NS. Their mean age was 72±13 years; 65% were male and 68% had a recorded place of birth in South-East Asia or the Pacific Islands. One of 12 patients with suspected meningovascular NS with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis had a positive CSF Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test. Three patients (8%) met diagnostic criteria for "definite or probable" meningovascular NS. All three patients with a "definite or probable" meningovascular NS and 15 (44%) of the remainder who had positive serology without confirmation of NS were treated with intravenous or intramuscular penicillin. Lumbar puncture (LP) and penicillin were underutilised in patients with TIA and stroke with positive serology. In conclusion, syphilis testing should be considered part of the diagnostic work-up of TIA and stroke, particularly in ethnically diverse populations. In patients with TIA and stroke with positive syphilis serology, it would seem appropriate to further pursue diagnosis and treatment and in patients unable to undergo LP, empiric treatment for NS should be considered.