South African Medical Journal

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The usefulness of cerebrospinal fluid tests for neurosyphilis

H. G. Russouw, M. C. Roberts, R. A. Emsley, J.J. Joubert


To determine the usefulness of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests for syphilis at a large academic hospital, clinical and laboratory data on 644 patients in whom such testing was requested over a 12-month period were analysed. In 198 cases (31 %) the Treponema paJlidum haemagglutination (TPHA) screening test could not be performed because of insufficient fluid. Thirty-eight of the remaining patients were diagnosed as having active neurosyphilis. Examination of 22 files of patients who had a positive TPHA and fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-Abs) test together with a negative CSF Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test revealed that other CSF measures indicating disease activity (CSF protein, cells or IgG index) were not utilised optimally. In 10 (45%) of these patients neurosyphilis was not diagnosed despite either abnormal or incomplete CSF biochemical analysis, indicating that if the CSF VDRL is used as the sole marker for disease activity, some cases of neurosyphilis are likely to be missed.

AJOL African Journals Online