Open Access Open Badges Case report

Osteitis in the dens of axis caused by Treponema pallidum

Thilde Fabricius12, Charlotte Winther3, Caroline Ewertsen4, Michael Kemp5 and Susanne Dam Nielsen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Infectious Diseases, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Denmark

2 Deparment of Infectious Diseases, Odense University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Denmark

3 Department of Pathology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Denmark

4 Department of Radiology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Denmark

5 Deparment of Microbiology, SSI, National Institute for Health Data and Disease Control, Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:347  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-347

Published: 26 July 2013



Syphilis has been referred to as “the great imitator” due to its ability to imitate other diseases. Untreated syphilis becomes a systemic infection that can involve almost every organ systems. Treponema pallidum has a high affinity for bone tissue, but osteitis has mainly been described in late stages of the disease. Vertebral involvement is rare, and this is to our knowledge the first case describing syphilitic spondylitis in early acquired syphilis.

Case presentation

We here describe destructive osteitis in the vertebral column as the initial manifestation of early acquired syphilis in a 24-year-old caucasian homosexual male with HIV infection. The diagnosis was reached by universal bacterial PCR and DNA sequencing of the DNA product. It was confirmed by PCR specific for Treponema pallidum, immunohistochemistry and detection of increasing antibody titer.


As syphilis has re-emerged in Western countries and remains a worldwide common disease it is important to have in mind as a causative agent of skeletal symptoms, especially among HIV-infected individuals or men who have sex with men (MSM).

Syphilis; Osteitis; Treponema pallidum; HIV; PCR