If we take a whole of life view, instead of a short term next few days view, things can look very different. David Healy tells the fascinating story of the patterns of Syphilis across on his blog.
There’s an advanced stage of syphilis known as “tertiary” syphilis, or GPI (“General Paralysis of the Insane”). It presents with psychiatric and neurological symptoms – dementia and paralyses.
Interestingly, this form of syphilis was not described in the Americas where the disease was found. But it became a significant problem back in Europe. Why was that? Even more curious was the fact that prostitutes in Europe rarely seemed to develop this advanced stage of the disease despite having a high incidence of syphilis itself. Yet their clients, the men who paid them, did tend to develop GPI. Only one group of prostitutes in Europe developed GPI – those in Vienna.
There’s a hidden element in this story, isn’t there?
It turns out that the hidden element was Mercury.
Mercury was the standard treatment for syphilis in Europe (“a night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury”). It wasn’t used in the “New World”. It wasn’t used by prostitutes, but it was by their wealthier clients. Only the prostitutes in Vienna were forced to take Mercury prophylactically by the authorities.
What a great cure, huh? I wonder how many other short term, apparently obvious “cures” or treatments lead to worse disease further down the line? How about this research into inflammatory diseases (which are increasing rapidly)
Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us. As nature’s blanket, the potentially pathogenic and benign microorganisms associated with the dirt that once covered every aspect of our preindustrial day guaranteed a time-honored co-evolutionary process that established “normal” background levels and kept our bodies from overreacting to foreign bodies. This research suggests that reintroducing some of the organisms from the mud and water of our natural world would help avoid an overreaction of an otherwise healthy immune response that results in such chronic diseases as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of allergic disorders.