Plagues and People
Chapter 12: The Great Pox Syphilis
•The men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study were denied treatment for
syphilis even after penicillin came into use in 1947. It came to
symbolize racism in medicine, and ethical misconduct in medical
•‘the great pox’ as the English called it, was a disease that from 1493,
swept over Europe and the rest of the world.
•Claimed that the disease was brought to Naples by Spanish troops sent
to support Alphonso II of Naples against the French king Charles VIII.
Charles invaded Italy and troops contracted the Great Pox and forced
•French called this pox ‘the disease of Naples’ blaming the Italians for
it, and the Italians called it ‘the French disease’
•Two main theories: Columbian theory and the pre-Columbian theory.
•Columbian theory: Columbus visited the Americas in 1492, and then
went back to Spain take back natives that then joined Charles VIII ‘s
•By the end of the 1800s, the virulence of the pathogen and the number
of cases decline.
•One hypothesis is: a new disease introduced into a naïve population
that increased the rate of transmission caused the outbreak, and it
transformed into a highly virulent disease.
•Another hypothesis: European syphilis was derived from yaws, and by
a mode of direct contact.
•Another reason: precautions against transmission were not observed,
later stages were not associated with earlier and more infectious
•Treatments: George Sommariva tried mercury for the treatment of ‘the
French pox’, it was taken in the form of a drink – came to be called
‘salivation’ because the near poisoning with mercury salts produced a
lot of saliva.
•Treatment: guaiacum (holy wood) resin from trees. It was a useless
•Evidence of the Columbian theory, lies in the bones and teeth: bone
lesions–scrimshaw patterns and saber thickenings on the lower limbs
of adults and notched teeth in children.
•In the Columbian theory view, syphilis would have existed in Europe
and Asia in a milder form prior to 1493, but then it changed and