How is secondary syphilis differentiated from tinea capitis (scalp ringworm)?

Updated: Feb 21, 2020
  • Author: Marc Zachary Handler, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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In secondary syphilis, areas of alopecia have a characteristic moth-eaten appearance or resemble alopecia areata. Serologic testing for the presence of treponemal antibody (rapid plasma reagin and Treponema -specific tests, eg, microhemagglutination– Treponema pallidum test) and testing by special silver impregnation histochemical stain (Warthin-Starry stain) for the demonstration of treponemal organisms aid in the accurate diagnosis of syphilis.

The patient may present with a generalized eruption of itchy papules, particularly around the outer helix of the ear, occurring as a reactive phenomenon (an id response). These symptoms may start with the introduction of systemic treatment for tinea capitis; thus, they be mistaken for a drug reaction.

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