Syphilis Eye Disease caused blindness in two King County residents: Public Health alert for gay and bi men

Six people in Washington have been diagnosed with ocular syphilis (syphilis in the eyes) since mid-December, 2014 and four of them here in King County. Two of these individuals are now permanently blind. Syphilitic eye disease can happen in early as well as late stages of infection. Early treatment can prevent permanent damage and one shot of antibiotics will usually cure syphilis.

Of the four King County cases, three occurred in gay and bisexual men, and three also had HIV. Read more about the alert here.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. The cause of this recent cluster of cases of syphilis eye disease is uncertain. Some evidence suggests that some strains of Treponema pallidum may be more likely to cause the eye disease, but more research is needed to know for sure.

Symptoms of syphilis are easy to miss, and easy to mistake for something else. Symptoms in each stage look different, ranging from painless sores that go away to a rash to no symptoms at all. But syphilis in the later stages causes paralysis, dementia, blindness, deafness, heart failure and even death. Learn more about symptoms at here.

Syphilitic eye disease can occur at any point in the infection.  Initial symptoms of ocular syphilis can be subtle. They may include:

  • blurry vision
  • floaters (spots that float by through your vision)
  • a blue tinge in vision
  • flashing lights
  • eye pain

If not treated, these symptoms can result in permanent blindness. With early treatment, the symptoms will usually go away. One shot of antibiotics will usually cure syphilis.

There are many things you can do to prevent syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Learn more at Public Health’s STD page and

Don’t delay. Get tested. Get cured.