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Syphilis

disease, protozoon, ancient, europe, diseases and organism

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SYPHILIS. This is a general infectious disease, chronic in character, which may be communicated through inoculative contact or transmitted by inheritance.. In the acquired form, it first produces at the point of inocula tion a specific lesion termed the chancre, fol lowed by a gradual infection through the com municating lymphatic vessels and eruptions upon the skin and mucous membranes. Later, there may develop in the connective tissue, or in any part of the body, adventitious new growths which may undergo suppurative or destructive changes.

The history of syphilis is shrouded in obscurity; certain writers have sought to trace its origin back to a remote antiquity. It is claimed that syphilis was well known to the ancients, and that descriptions of morbid con ditions applying to this disease are found in the Bible, in Egyptian papyri, Assyrian and Baby lonian inscriptions, as well as in the ancient Chinese and Japanese literature and the books of the Vedas. The evidence which connects syphilis with these ancient historic records is vague, indefinite and inconclusive. Our actual knowledge of syphilis dates from the appear ance of the disease in Europe about the year 1494, and there is much evidence to show that the disease was native in South America and was brought to Europe by Columbus' sailors. There can be no question that gonorrhea and ulcerative affections of the genital organs re sulting from sexual debauch and uncleanliness were well known and frequently spoken of by ancient writers. With the irruption of syphilis in Europe toward the close of the 15th century, and its widespread extension, the identity of gonorrhoea was swallowed up in the greater importance of this newer and more formidable disease. During a long period all diseases of the genital organs were regarded as identical in origin and nature. This doctrine reigned prac tically supreme for' more than three centuries and was not definitely overthrown until 1838. At the present time we recognize that under the general term "venereal' are comprehended three distinct diseases, independent in origin and na ture, namely, gonorrhoea, chancroid and syphilis.

Since 1905 the cause or etiology of syphilis has assumed an entirely new phase. Previous to that time it was very strongly sus pected, especially by those who had followed the development of the science of bacteriology, that the cause must be associated with some variety of specific micro-organism, as was the case with so many other infectious diseases. The history and clinical phenomena of the dis ease all pointed in that direction. Everything seemed to favor such a theory and there was apparently nothing from the bacteriological point of view which could be urged against it. In 1905, after careful investigation of the pri mary and secondary lesions in 70 successive cases of syphilis, Schaudinn announced that he had succeeded in finding in each of them a spirillum or spirocluete which he named spiro chwta pallida. (This organism is also known as Treponema pallidum). This should be classified as a protozoon. When regarded as a protozoon it is described as one of the flagel lated mastigophora which is characterized mor phologically by a long slender body with nu merous corkscrew-like coils and a flagellum at each extremity. Upon the protozoon supposi tion it is the pathogenic parasite of syphilis.

The findings of Schaudinn were confirmed by Hoffman and others, and additional in vestigations were made by Metchnikoff at the Pasteur Institute. Some of the higher apes were successfully inoculated with the organism, the results being especially satisfactory with the chimpanzee. Various methods of staining have been used with this organism. In the Levaditi method the spirochetm appear as dark spirals upon a pale yellow background, and when a weak counterstain is used they can frequently be detected in great numbers in the liver cells. They have also been found in the tissues of the lungs, spleen and heart.

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