The hair pull test was positive. After a gentletraction more than ten hairs came out
Additional details of the patient’s history wereobtained and the patient admitted to a single unprote-cted receptive oral sex with an unknown male 6 mon-ths before the onset of skin lesions and alopecia. Heremembered a non-tender lesion on his upper lip app-roximately five months before, but had sought no me-dical care.Serological results included positive nontrepo-nemal reaction - Venereal Disease Research Labora-tory (VDRL) test titer was 1:32, with specific Trepone-ma Pallidum Hemagglutation Assay (TPHA) test being positive as well. Patient declined testing on HIV.Patient was treated with a single dose of benza-thine penicillin G, 2.4 million units intramuscularly. Wi-thin three months there was dramatic hair regrowth, andall syphilitic lesions resolved and the VDRL titer declined(1:8).However, the examination of oral mucosa revea-led white corrugated plaque on the lateral and inferior surface of the tongue. Oral hairy leukoplakia was dia-gnosed clinically. This virally induced hyperplasia occursalmost exclusively in HIV-infected individuals, especi-ally homosexual men. Patient was counselled and tes-ted on HIV. The HIV seropositivity was confirmed by the Western blot analysis.
Hair loss is not a common feature of secondary syphilis. Literature data have shown that prevalence of syphilitic alopecia ranges from 2.9 percents to 11 per-cents, with a predominance in homosexual men (3- 5).However, syphilis incidence has increased world-wide, occurring primarily among men who have sex withmen (6, 7). The HIV infection rate is high in patientswith syphilis. Blocker et al. reported that seroprevalencesfor HIV among homosexual men in the USA ranged from64% to 90% (8). On the other hand, the course of syp-hilis in an HIV-infected patient may be altered from thenatural history of the disease (9).In a study of 24 HIV positive patients with syphilisconducted in Brazil, 15 out of 24 had secondary syphilisand 3 patients (20%) presented with syphilitic alopecia(10). In the case series of secondary syphilis among 10homosexual men in our Institute, two of them (20%)presented with alopecia, both HIV-infected (11). Our patient with syphilitic alopecia was HIV-infected, too. These facts along with the current data raise thequestion whether the prevalence of syphilitic alopeciadiffer between HIV negative and HIV positive patients.Nevertheless, it could not be deducted herein becauseof the small number of patients.Even though the pathogenesis of syphilitic alope-cia has not been completely elucidated, the presence of
in the hair follicle suggests thatalopecia may be caused directly by spirochetes (12). There are two types of syphilitic alopecia: “symptomatic”type where the hair loss is associated with other symp-toms of secondary syphilis, and “essential” alopecia thatis either patchy (“moth-eaten” type), diffuse pattern witha generalized thinning of scalp hair, or a combination of both without any other mucocutaneous signs of syphilis(2). Of these, “moth-eaten” pattern is the most commonand most characteristic (13).Our patient had the “symptomatic” type with ge-neralized thinning of the scalp hair and alopecia on thelateral part of his eyebrows and eyelashes. A macular rash with palmar-plantar involvement and oral lesionscoexisted with the hair loss. The hair pull test in our casewas positive. After a gentle traction more than ten hairscame out. Even though syphilitic alopecia predominantly affects the scalp, hair loss can involve any body area (2).Common mimickers of diffuse syphilitic alopeciainclude telogen effluvium and androgenic alopecia. Telo-gen effluvium is the transient increased shedding of nor-mal club hairs from resting scalp follicles secondary toaccelerated shift of anagen into catagen and telogen,which results clinically in increased daily hair loss and if severe, thinning of hair. Hair loss occurs diffusely throu-ghout the scalp. Androgenic alopecia is the commonprogressive balding which occurs through the combinedeffect of a genetic predisposition and the action of an-drogen on the hair follicles of the scalp. Males usually exhibit patterned loss in the frontotemporal and vertex areas. Clinical conditions that mimic “moth-eaten” syp-hilitic alopecia include alopecia areata, alopecia neo-plastica, tinea capitis and trichotillomania (14). A complete skin examination for other mucocu-taneous lesions of secondary syphilis and serological te-sts evaluating for syphilis should be done to confirm thediagnosis. The treatment of choice for secondary syphilis isa single dose of benzathine penicillin G, 2.4 million unitsintramuscularly. Alopecia usually resolves within threemonths of treatment as described in our patient.Syphilitic alopecia should not be overlooked inpatients with non-scarring hair loss. Serologic testing for syphilis is recommended in patients with unexplained