A long time ago, before the term HIV clouded our sexual intentions, before the 60’s changed the way we were allowed to behave sexually, even before penicillin was mistakenly discovered, there was one disease that was so ferocious and unspeakable it’s hundred different names were all but whispered.
Syphilis, then known as the sovereign of all the venereal diseases, was the most debilitating. To add insult to excruciating injury, it also bore a moral judgment that made it all in all an impossible disease to deal with.
Syphilis is a very aggressive sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a bacterial organism called a spirochete, which is transmitted by vaginal, oral or anal sex.
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After syphilis became controllable by antibiotics, it ceased to be the threatening STD that it had been for so long. It was officially retired as the queen of all STDs once it was upstaged by the incurable HIV.
But although the outbreak of HIV has in some ways served the purpose of safe sex by renewing the importance of safe sex behaviour, in some ways treating HIV as the sole problem of unsafe sex leaves people vulnerable to syphilis and other STDs because some people get tested for HIV and then discontinue condom use.
This has led to a recurrence of syphilis in recent years in many countries.
Just has nature has taught us in the past not to underestimate it, so we need to respect that here too is an example of nature fighting back human smugness. Not only have our medicines not beaten it, but syphilis is surviving and developing resistant strains as an answer to our misuse of treatment drugs.
We need to respect that this is the disease that is probably responsible for the insane musings and even part of the creative genius of some of the greatest minds of the last few centuries, not least of whom (according to medical historian, Deborah Hayden) include Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Abraham Lincoln, Vincent van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzche, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and even Adolf Hitler.
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