Syphilis History Of
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Syphilis History Of
If you were to take a look at our Worlds history there are many people who have stood out above all others, some for their philosophy, astronomy, or religion. There are also the places that have had significant impact on the world. The Middle East and China for example have had rich and extended history. The one area of history that most people overlook as we travel back in time are the diseases that have devastated our population. One disease that I would like to talk about is Treponema Pallidum. It has been written about, debated over, and has affected every culture it has come into contact with. This is the corkscrew shaped bacteria responsible for the infection that we call syphilis (United States Naval Flight Surgeons Manual, 1991). The purpose of this paper is to look at were syphilis originated, how it spread and how it was treated.
The first unquestionable epidemic of syphilis occurred in Europe at the end of the 15th century (Arrizabalaga, 1997). With this first epidemic, came the first chorus of blames. Travelers were blamed, prostitutes were blamed, soldiers were blamed, and of course Columbus was blamed. The Muscovites called syphilis the Polish sickness. The Poles called it the German sickness (Gugliotta, 2000).
One hypothesis assumes a New World origin, and holds that sailors who accompanied Columbus and other explorers brought the disease back to Europe. Another explanation is that syphilis was always present in the Old World but was not identified as a separate disease from leprosy before about AD 1500. A third possibility is that syphilis developed in both hemispheres from the related diseases bejel and yaws (Rose, 1997).
New studies by paleopathologists Bruce and Christine Rothschild favor a New World origin. They examined 687 skeletons from archaeological sites in the United States and Ecuador ranging in age from 400 to 6,000 years (Rose, 1997).
Populations to the south (New Mexico, Florida and Ecuador) proved to have syphilis, while those to the north (Ohio, Illinois and Virginia) had yaws. By contrast, examination of 1,000 old world skeletons dated to before contact with the New World revealed no cases of syphilis (Rose, 1997).
This suggests that syphilis was first present in the New World and was later brought to the Old World. Furthermore, the Rothschilds found that the earliest yaws cases in the New World collections were at least 6,000 years old, while the first syphilis cases were at least 800 years old and perhaps more than 1,600 years old. This suggests that syphilis may be a New World mutation of yaws, which has a worldwide distribution (Rose, 1997).
By most historical accounts, it does seem that France was the likely starting point of the European epidemic. During Charles the VIIIs Italian campaign in 1495, his mercenaries returned home with this new sickness. It spread quickly and viciously. The city of Lyons became so contaminated with diseased people that in March of 1496 the infected people were expelled outside of the city walls. By 1497, the disease had spread throughout France. Less then a decade later, nearly all corners of Europe were already infected as well (Crosby, 1986).
Shortly after the outbreak, it was noted that babies were born with a disease that seemed similar to syphilis. It seemed as if the entire continent, adults and newborns alike were affected by this epidemic. Perhaps as early as the first part of the 1600s, congenital syphilis was recognized as being distinct from adult onset syphilis. They believed it came from the fathers or the wet nurses. It wasnt until the early 1900s that they realized syphilis was transmitted through the placenta (Schwartz, 1965).
Syphilis is primarily a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The original outbreaks were most likely caused when a new group entered an area where syphilis was present and unknowingly encountered the disease. The spread of syphilis was greatly do to lack of STD education. Syphilis has