SAGE Journals

Clinical presentation and outcomes of syphilitic meningitis among hospitalized adults in lusaka, Zambia

Posted on 2022-09-15 - 12:15

Few studies exist to describe the characteristics of symptomatic syphilitic meningitis, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, despite a global resurgence.


We conducted a retrospective analysis of a cohort of adults with meningitis presenting to Zambia’s largest referral hospital between April 2014 and December 2017. Individuals with pyogenic bacterial and cryptococcal meningitis were excluded from this cohort. We calculated the prevalence of syphilitic meningitis in the cohort and described the demographic, clinical and laboratory characteristics and outcomes.


Of 512 participants, 273 were male, mean age was 37 ± 11 years and 84% were people living with HIV. The prevalence of syphilitic meningitis was 5% with in-hospital and 1-year mortality of 17% and 53%, respectively. Participants with syphilitic meningitis had lower Glasgow Coma Scores than those with other forms of meningitis. Among people living with HIV, those with syphilitic meningitis were less likely to have meningismus and had higher CSF white cell counts.


Syphilitic meningitis was found in 5% of Zambian adults presenting with non-pyogenic bacterial meningitis and non-cryptococcal meningitis, and one-year mortality was high. A high degree of clinical suspicion for syphilitic meningitis in all individuals with meningitis in Zambia is recommended, especially in people living with HIV.


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