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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidumt that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to cure with the right treatment. if it is not treated. Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby.

The signs and symptoms of syphilis vary depending in which of the four stages it presents (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary). The primary stage classically presents with a single chancre (a firm, painless, non-itchy skin ulceration) but there may be multiple sores. In secondary syphilis a diffuse rash occurs, which frequently involves the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. There may also be sores in the mouth or vagina. In latent syphilis, which can last for years, there are few or no symptoms. In tertiary syphilis there are gummas (soft non-cancerous growths), neurological, or heart symptoms. Syphilis has been known as "the great imitator" as it may cause symptoms similar to many other diseases.

Syphilis was once a major public health threat, commonly causing serious long-term health problems such as arthritis, brain damage, and blindness. It defied effective treatment until the late 1940s, when the antibiotic penicillin was first developed.

Syphilis was very common in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the developed world during the early 20th century, infections declined rapidly with the widespread use of antibiotics, until the 1980s and 1990s.

According to the CDC, the rate of new cases of syphilis had plummeted in the 1990's and in the year 2000 it reached an all time low since reporting began in 1941. In 1999 it is believed to have infected 12 million additional people, with greater than 90% of cases in the developing world. It affects between 700,000 and 1.6 million pregnancies a year, resulting in spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and congenital syphilis During 2010 it caused about 113,000 deaths down from 202,000 in 1990. In sub-Saharan Africa, syphilis contributes to approximately 20% of perinatal deaths. Rates are proportionally higher among intravenous drug users, those who are infected with HIV, and men who have sex with men. In the United States, rates of syphilis as of 2007 were six times greater in men than women; they were nearly equal in 1997. African Americans accounted for almost half of all cases in 2010.  In 2014, the number of new cases had risen to 19,999.

In 2015, about 45.4 million people were infected with syphilis, with 6 million new cases. During 2015, it caused about 107,000 deaths, down from 202,000 in 1990. After decreasing dramatically with the availability of penicillin in the 1940s, rates of infection have increased since the turn of the millennium in many countries, often in combination with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This is believed to be partly due to increased promiscuity, prostitution, decreasing use of condoms, and unsafe sexual practices among men who have sex with men. In 2015, Cuba became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis.

Untreated, it has a mortality of 8% to 58%, with a greater death rate in males. The symptoms of syphilis have become less severe over the 19th and 20th centuries, in part due to widespread availability of effective treatment and partly due to virulence of the spirochaete. With early treatment, few complications result. Syphilis increases the risk of HIV transmission by two to five times, and coinfection is common (30–60% in some urban centers). In 2015 Cuba became the first country in the world to eradicate mother to child transmission of syphilis.

Since 2000, rates of syphilis have been increasing in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and Europe, primarily among men who have sex with men. Increased rates among heterosexuals have occurred in China and Russia since the 1990s.

History: The exact origin of syphilis is disputed. Syphilis was definitely present in the Americas before European contact, and it may have been carried from the Americas to Europe by the returning crewmen from Christopher Columbus's voyage to the Americas; or it may have existed in Europe previously, but went unrecognized until shortly after Columbus returned.These are referred to as the Columbian and pre-Columbian hypotheses, respectively.

The first written records of an outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494 or 1495 in Naples, Italy, during a French invasion (Italian War of 1494–98). As it was claimed to have been spread by French troops, it was initially known as the "French disease" by the people of Naples. In 1530, the pastoral name "syphilis" (the name of a character) was first used by the Italian physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro as the title of his Latin poem in dactylic hexameter describing the ravages of the disease in Italy. It was also known historically as the "Great Pox".

The causative organism, Treponema pallidum, was first identified by Fritz Schaudinn and Erich Hoffmann in 1905. The first effective treatment for syphilis was Salvarsan, developed in 1910 by Paul Ehrlich. In 1943, trials of penicillin confirmed its effectiveness. Before the discovery and use of antibiotics in the mid-twentieth century, mercury and isolation were commonly used, with treatments often worse than the disease

People who died of Syphilis:

  1. Wikipedia - List of syphilis cases
  2. BroBible - 7 historical figures you won’t believe had STDs

Many famous historical figures, including Charles VIII of France (accidently hit head), Christopher Columbus (possible), Hernán Cortés of Spain (dysentery), Benito Mussolini (shot), and Ivan the Terrible (a stroke), were often alleged to have had syphilis or other sexually transmitted infections. Sometimes these allegations were false and formed part of a political whispering campaign. In other instances, retrospective diagnoses of suspected cases have been made in modern times.

Keys: S—suspected case; †—died of syphilis

Further Reading:

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