From the Spanish meaning “painted”, pinta is an acute and chronic non-venereal treponemal infection of the skin. It is caused by the spirochete Treponema carateum.

Treponema carateum bacteria obtained from an early pinta lesion/CDC
Treponema carateum bacteria obtained from an early pinta lesion/CDC

Pinta is found in rural areas of tropical America where people live in crowded, unhygienic conditions.

Once a problem with the Amazonian populations of South America and also of Central America and the Caribbean; the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that the infection is very close to eradication with only a few residual cases seen today. As sanitation improves and access to antibiotics becomes more available in these rural areas, pinta may soon be a thing of the past.

Pinta is spread person to person through close, prolonged, direct skin to skin contact. Lesions found in children are most frequently found on parts of the body where there are cuts and other trauma.

It is not a highly contagious disease and several years of intimate contact may be required for transmission.

A scaling, painless papule (bump) shows up from one to eight weeks after infection, usually on the hands, legs or feet.

After three months to a year, a secondary rash appears which may evolve into splotches which pass through color pigmentation stages of blue to violet to brown. They eventually become depigmented or colorless scars.

Pinta does not affect the patient systemically and doesn’t cause physical disability or death.

The appearance of the lesions and examining the lesion microscopically looking for spirochetes can help in the diagnosis. Testing for T. carateum antibodies is also a available.

Pinta like all other treponemes is effectively treated with penicillin.