Neurosyphilis in Africa: A systematic review.

PLoS neglected tropical diseases

PubMedID: 28859081

Marks M, Jarvis JN, Howlett W, Mabey DCW. Neurosyphilis in Africa: A systematic review. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2017;11(8):e0005880.
Neurological involvement is one of the most important clinical manifestations of syphilis and neurological disease occurs in both early and late syphilis. The impact of HIV co-infection on clinical neurosyphilis remains unclear. The highest prevalence of both syphilis and HIV is in Africa. Therefore it might be expected that neurosyphilis would be an important and not uncommon manifestation of syphilis in Africa and frequently occur in association with HIV co-infection; yet few data are available on neurosyphilis in Africa. The aim of this study is to review data on neurosyphilis in Africa since the onset of the HIV epidemic.

We searched the literature for references on neurosyphilis in Africa for studies published between the 1st of January 1990 and 15th February 2017. We included case reports, case series, and retrospective and prospective cohort and case-control studies. We did not limit inclusion based on the diagnostic criteria used for neurosyphilis. For retrospective and prospective cohorts, we calculated the proportion of study participants who were diagnosed with neurosyphilis according to the individual study criteria. Depending on the study, we assessed the proportion of patients with syphilis found to have neurosyphilis, and the proportion of patients with neurological syndromes who had neurosyphilis. Due to heterogeneity of data no formal pooling of the data or meta-analysis was undertaken.

Amongst patients presenting with a neurological syndrome, three studies of patients with meningitis were identified; neurosyphilis was consistently reported to cause approximately 3% of all cases. Three studies on stroke reported mixed findings but were limited due to the small number of patients undergoing CSF examination, whilst neurosyphilis continued to be reported as a common cause of dementia in studies from North Africa. Ten studies reported on cases of neurosyphilis amongst patients known to have syphilis. Studies from both North and Southern Africa continue to report cases of late stage syphilis, including tabes dorsalis and neurosyphilis, in association with ocular disease.

This is the first systematic review of the literature on neurosyphilis in Africa since the beginning of the HIV epidemic. Neurosyphilis continues to be reported as a manifestation of both early and late syphilis, but the methodological quality of the majority of the included studies was poor. Future well-designed prospective studies are needed to better delineate the incidence and clinical spectrum of neurosyphilis in Africa and to better define interactions with HIV in this setting.