Since 1600, syphilis has come leaps and bounds ahead from where it was at that time. At the begginning of the 17th Century, the discovery of differences between adult syphilis and congenital syphilis occurred. It was believed that the disease was transferred to infants from either the father or through wet nurses. However, it was not known until the first part of the 20th Century that this disease was transferred through the mother's placenta. The discovery of babies with syphilis, though, was not made until after the first epidemic of the disease.
Between this first epidemic in 16th and 17th Century Europe and the second epidemic of syphilis, advances in medicine did occur. Up until the 1800's, mercury continued to be the prevelant treatment for those with syphilis. Mercury was used in forms of vapor baths, ointments, and oral varities. And by the time that the next treatment for the disease was found, mercury was killing more people than it was helping. However, the discovery that Potassium Iodide aided those with syphilis began the train of advances over the next 100 years. It was in 1840 that this new treatment was found to have superb effects on those with the disease, surprisingly aiding those in the latter stages also. So Potassium Iodide was used in syphilis treatment until the early 1900's. In 1908, microbiologists discovered and isolated the bacteria that caused the disease, allowing Paul Ehrlich to begin research on a better treatment. With his research beginning in 1905, and after 606 tries, Ehrlich finally found a more advanced treatment. Ehrlich had been testing out possible treatments on rats, and when Number 606 didn't kill the rat but killed the disease, he was able to introduce this new treatment to the world in 1910. This treatment, called Salvarsan, was an arsenic compound. And while this new treatment, which Ehrlich liked to coin as a "silver bullet", wasn't as spectacular as what society had hoped, it inspired others to attempt to find a new and better treatment, one that would become the "silver bullet" that Ehrlich had talked about. Then, in 1929, Alexander Fleming discovered the anti-bacterial characteristics of the mold Penicillium, which was then made into today's treatment for syphilis: penicillin However, it was biologiests Howard Florey and Ernst Chain who continued Fleming's research and were able to purify the drug into what is known currently. Yet, while penicillin has changed the lives of millions, helping to treat those who have syphilis, no certain cure has been found and neither has Ehrlich's "silver bullet." ("The History of syphilis..." allsands.com)
Syphilis over history has had one further epidemic. This second epidemic in history was shortly after the end of World War Two. Rates of contraction spiked in the United States, causing alarm in the government and in the general public once it was realized that penicillin was not enough to keep the disease in check. This started an enormous educational campaign, informing the public about the threats and dangers of syphilis. Flyers, newspaper ads, radio shows, pamphlets, films, and posters were used in the attempt the slow down the spread of the disease. The program worked, causing rates to plummet, even reaching an all-time low of 3.9 cases per 100,000 people. However, the rates of syphilis rose during the 1960's as the sexual revolution took place. However, the numbers were not of epidemic proportion. This jump brought along another wave of STD education, slowing down the rate of contraction once again in the 1970's. While these STD awarness programs seemed to be helping, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) discovered in the 1980's that syphilis was on the rise in minority groups in urban areas. So yet another program was created, this time targeting 15-30-year-olds. And once again, the programs worked, causing syphilis to reach a low as the new century is underway. ("The History of syphilis..." allsands.com)
One of the saddest and most horrific studies of syphilis was the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Nearly 400 men in Macon County, Alabama were promised a cure for "bad blood", the name given to the county's epidemic disease, syphilis. However, treatment for the disease was never given, as the study was in reality a study of how syphilis progresses in untreated black males. Incentives such as free hot meals, free rides to and from the clinic where they were given a free exam, and the $50.00 stipend garunteed to their survivors upon their death were used to bring subjects to this study. No consent forms were provided for the subjects of this study, even though the threat of death was very real. This horrible study, however, continued for forty years, until 1972. In total, 600 men were in the experiment, 399 with syphilis and 201 without in a control group. After the story was broke in 1972, lawsuits began to take shape. In 1973, a $1.8 billion class-action civil lawsuit was filed against the agencies and members involved in this study. However, the case never went to court as the government settled out of court for $10 million. (BioEthics)
While syphilis has been under control for nearly 20 years, unless the education of the disease is continued, the rates of contraction could easily race out of control once again. Awareness of the disease and the practice of safe sex will help to control syphilis and its spread across the world today.