History of syphilis - Wikipedia

Having blogged for Week 2’s seminar on , you may be concerned that the Wellcome Unit Library has exhausted its suggested reading on syphilis. Thankfully, this is not the case: we’ve plenty more where that came from! Starting with by John Parascandola (RC201.5.A2 PAR 2008), which explores the spread of the ‘Great Pox’ in the U.S. from the time of Columbus and colonization to post-World War II treatment. Within the first chapter, Parascandola touches upon the mythologies Dr Herrara is interested in: the tale of the shepherd Syphilus (pictured in the header image) who blasphemed the Sun-God:

A Cultural History of Syphilis (BBC Audio)

The history of syphilis has been well studied, but the exact origin of the disease is unknown

The History and Transmission of Treponema pallidum; Syphilis

‘The myth of the spotted sun and the blemished moon: a biosocial
ethnohistory of syphilis and related diseases’

By John Frith In History Issue Volume 20 No

Naturally occurring chemical elements and chemical compounds have historically have been used as therapies for a variety of infections, particularly for wound infections and syphilis.

Thankfully, in 1943, penicillin supplanted these treatments and remains the first-line therapy for all stages of syphilis.
Syphilis – Its early history and Treatment until Penicillin and the Debate on its Origins

STD Control Branch - Syphilis Clinical Guidelines

The project was begun in 1929 as a , usingthe standard therapy of 1929-33: a series of twenty IM injectionsof arsenic compounds, supplemented by topical applications of mercurialointment. (pp. 45-90) However, there was not enough money for full treatment,despite the application of the PHS to private foundations. The subjectsreceived only eight injections, which cured only 3% of them (p. 119).

There was a very high incidence of syphilis among Negroes in Macon County:36%, which should be compared to the national average for Caucasians ofonly 0.4%. Given that these black men were living in distressing poverty(pp. 61-62, 83, 107, 201) and ignorance, it was easy to get them to followorders from white physicians. When it was not financially possible to treatthese subjects, the physicians may have looked for other things that theycould do with this docile and relatively immobile group of people. In 1933,the long-term complications of syphilis were well known in Caucasians, butthe common view amongst physicians was that Negroes responded differentlyto disease than Caucasians. So, apparently, the physicians decided to studythe progression of untreated syphilis in Negroes, ending only when all ofthe subjects had been autopsied. I say "apparently", because withall of the bureaucratic obfuscation in the 1970's, it is not clear whatthe motivation really was in 1933.

Syphilis is the third most frequently reported communicable disease in the United States


The deliberate failure to treat a group of male Negroes in Macon County(near Tuskegee), Alabama who had syphilis begun in 1932 and ended, by unfavorablepublicity, in 1972. This experiment is difficult to discuss, because somuch was wrong with it. In my opinion, there are three major mistakes. Pagecitations are to by James H. Jones, a historian and scholarin bioethics.

The Tuskegee experiment began at a time when there was no known treatment for syphilis

Why Did People Wear Powdered Wigs? | Mental Floss

From its arrival in Europe in the 1400s up to its effective treatment with penicillin the 1940s, syphilis ravaged society and destroyed families. The infection was transmitted through physical intimacy: one became infected by a sexual partner during a youthful dalliance or in a fit of infidelity, and it was then delivered to one’s spouse and then tragically transmitted by the mother to the unborn. For centuries, syphilis was considered a blight to society and to good morality, an infection of depravity transmitted through generations of families.