CDC: Infants Born With Syphilis at 20-Year High

Historians mining the archives of prisons, hospitals and asylums now estimate that a fifth of the population might have been infected at any one time. London hospitals during the 18th century treated barely a fraction of the poor, and on discharge sufferers were publicly whipped to ram home the moral lesson.

Those who could buy care also bought silence – the confidentiality of the modern doctor/patient relationship has it roots in the treatment of syphilis. Not that it always helped. The old adage “a night with Venus; a lifetime with Mercury” reveals all manner of horrors, from men suffocating in overheated steam baths to quacks who peddled chocolate drinks laced with mercury so that infected husbands could treat their wives and families without them knowing. Even court fashion is part of the story, with pancake makeup and beauty spots as much a response to recurrent attacks of syphilis as survivors of smallpox.

And then there are the artists; poets, painters, philosophers, composers. Some wore their infection almost as a badge of pride: The Earl of Rochester, Casanova, Flaubert in his letters. In Voltaire’s Candide, Pangloss can trace his chain of infection right back to a Jesuit novice who caught it from a woman who caught it from a sailor in the new world. Others were more secretive. Shame is a powerful censor in history, and in its later stages syphilis, known as the “great imitator”, mimics so many other diseases that it’s easy to hide the truth. Detective work by writers such as Deborah Hayden (The Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis) count Schubert, Schumann, Baudelaire, Maupassant, Flaubert, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Wilde and Joyce with contentious evidence around Beethoven and Hitler. Her larger question – how might the disease itself have affected their creative process – is a tricky one.

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https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/news/20180925/cdc-infants-born-with-syphilis-at-20-year-high

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