Lorene Rottmann, Gudrun Heidler, Karin Ostler, Claudia Heller-Vitouch, Angelika Stary
Outpatients Centre for Diagnosis of Infectious Venero-Dermatological Diseases, Vienna, Austria.

Syphilis is a systemic, multi-stage disease with a chronic, gradual course, caused by Treponema pallidum. The COVID-19 pandemic led to several lockdowns during the year 2020 with the instruction to avoid direct contacts. Aim of the evaluation was to compare the number of patients diagnosed with an early syphilitic infection (primary, secondary syphilis, early latent), in 2020 and 2019, the year before the pandemic.

Patients and methods:
Patients, sent to the Outpatient Centre because of a suspicious syphilitic infection, or for contact tracing, were evaluated concerning gender, age, sexual orientation, clinical symptoms, and contact tracing. Laboratory diagnosis was performed by darkfield microscopy of smear material of suspected chancres and condylomata lata to detect T. pallidum and by serology (VDRL, IgM, TPPA).

The total number of positive syphilis patients slightly increased by 3% from 2019 (33 patients) to 2020 (34 patients). In 2019, all patients were men, in 2020 2 women and 32 men were diagnosed with syphilis. There was a significant increase in early latent syphilis, with 9 patients in 2019 to 21 in 2020 (133%). The number of patients diagnosed with primary and secondary Syphilis decreased from 15 to 10 (33.4%), and 9 to 3 patients (66.6%), respectively.

Despite the restrictions to avoid direct contacts the total number of syphilis cases diagnosed in 2020 increased. While the pandemic might have had an influence on the number of primary and secondary syphilis, the number of early latent syphilis increased alarmingly, and contact tracing and follow up controls are of great importance to maintain best service for the patients.


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