The History of Syphilis

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It can be cured using the proper treatment. However, if not treated this infection could leave to bigger health problems. So, what is the history of syphilis? How did it first start and when was a cure discovered? Let’s dig into the history of this sexually transmitted infection.


The Start of Syphilis


The exact origin of syphilis is unknown. There are two hypotheses about the origin of this disease. The first is that sailors who accompanied Christopher Columbus brought the disease back to Europe. The other hypothesis is that was already present in Europe and was not identified as a separate disease from leprosy int he Old World.


In 1495 the first European outbreak was recorded in Naples, Italy. The disease then spread across Europe. It started with genital ulcers and then led to fevers, rash, and joint and muscle pains. The sores could then eat into the bones and destroy various parts of the body including the nose, lips and eyes. With many cases of syphilis, early death occurred.


By the 1500s, Syphilis had spread to Scandinavian countries, Britain, Hungary, Greece, Poland and Russia. Many countries in Europe blamed other countries for the start of this disease. For example, the French called it the “Neapolitan disease” because they blamed Naples for the start. The Italians called it the “French disease”, and the Germans called it the “French evil.”


During the 16th century, syphilis became less lethal. The disease had three phases. The first phase was genital sores. After several weeks, the sores would heal and a rash would occur along with fevers and joint pain. The final phase was the appearance of abscesses and ulcers. This was the worst phase because it caused patients to be shunned from society and seen as sinners.


Early Treatments for Syphilis


In the 16th century, the treatments for syphilis included guaiacum and mercury skin inunctions. Also, sweat baths were used because it was believed that sweating would help the body get rid of syphilitic poisons. Once it was discovered that mercury could do more harm to the body than good, other treatments were discovered.


In the early 1900s,  an antimicrobial used for treating the disease was the drug Salvarsan. Shortly after than Neosalvarsan was discovered, which was less toxic. Once penicillin was discovered, these other treatments were found obsolete and syphilis was able to effectively treated.


Diagnosing Syphilis and Preventing the Spread of this Disease


In today’s society syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection. You could be at risk for this disease if you have unprotected sex with a person who has this infection. Syphilis can be spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Once you come in contact with this virus you might find sores on the penis, vagina, anus, rectum, and even the lips and mouth.


As discussed earlier, there are three stages of syphilis. However, once you have the first signs of syphilis or if you suspect you have come in contact with the infection you should get treated immediately. When you visit with your doctor a blood test will be used to test for this infection.


If syphilis is not treated it can lead to bigger health problems. Syphilis could spread to brain and eyes. This is called neurosyphilis and can cause a severe headache, difficulty with muscle movements, numbness and dementia.


Once your doctor diagnoses you with this disease, antibiotics will be used to cure it. However, as previously mentioned the treatment needs to happen immediately or more damage can be done.


Once you have been treated for syphilis you are not immune to the disease. You can still get the disease again, which is why it is important to protect yourself against that and other sexually transmitted infections.


When to Get Tested for Syphilis


If you feel you are at risk for this sexually transmitted disease it is important to see your doctor immediately. You should get tested regularly if you are sexually active and unaware if your partner has been exposed to this disease. You should also get tested regularly if you are a man who has sex with other men, living with HIV, or have a partner who tested positive for the disease. In addition, pregnant women should get tested for the disease because it could be passed on to a newborn at birth.


Like all sexually transmitted infections, it is important to be aware if your sexual partner has the infection. You may not always see the symptoms, so it is important to ask. It is also important to remember that there is a cure for this disease so you want to speak with your doctor. He or she can answer any questions and get you started with your treatment.

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