History of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Transmitted Diseases, or commonly known as STDs, are the most common diseases known to man and it is one of the largest growing issues not only in the United States of America but around the globe. Sexually transmitted diseases are primarily spread through sexual contact from individual to individual, whether it is oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It can also be passed on by skin to skin contact such as through skin lesions, sores, sharing needles, or even by wearing the same clothing or lying in the same bedding as the individual who might have it.
There are two different types of STDs, viral or viruses which are non-living and need a host to survive, this group includes Herpes and AIDS. Another type of STD is bacterial, with examples such as Chlamydia, Syphillis, and Gonorrhea. In this essay, I will be exploring the history of these sexually transmitted diseases. Herpes Cases of Herpes had been documented as early as in fact, the name Herpes was taken from the ancient Greek language.
Hippocrates is known to have described the cutaneous spreading of herpes simplex lesions and scholars of Greek civilization define thegreek word “herpes” to mean “to creep or crawl” in reference the spreading nature of the herpetic skin lesions. ” (Siegel, 2007) Although Herpes virus was identified in 1919, early civilizations realized that it was a real problem to society – ancient Roman Emperor Tiberius introduced a ban on kissing at public events to try and curb the spread. Even British playwright William Shakespear wrote about the disease.
In Romeo and Juliet, he writes Queen Mab to say “O’er ladies lips, who straight on kisses dream, which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues, because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are. ” One common belief in the ancient times was that the disease was caused by insect bites, which seems like an obvious explanation given the sores that the Herpes virus creates. Not much is known about early attempts to treat the disease, but physician Celsus’ experimental phase: he advocated that the sores be cauterised with a hot iron. It was not until 1893 when Vidal recognized that human transmission of Herpes was from one individual to another.
And in 1919, Lowenstein confirmed experimentally the infectious nature of HSV. Before this time, people were unsure that herpes was a virus – in fact, many considered it to be like other common skin conditions, such as eczema, which cannot be transmitted. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the natural history of HSV was widely studied and it was found that HSV not only infects the skin, but also the central nervous system. Herpes is certainly not just a modern phenomenon, it has been around for a while and unfortunately, unless a cure is found, it will continue to exist.
Syphilis How syphilis was passed to nearly every corner of the globe is a trek that is still hotly debated today. It seems that nobody can agree on when and where this tiny bacteria began to dig out its own niche in human history. For centuries, many scholars and physicians tried to convince an audience that syphilis originated in either the Old World, the New World, or in both places independently. They have concluded that there are two major theories on the origin of syphilis, the “pre-Columbian theory”, and the “Columbian Exchange theory”.
It is generally agreed upon by historians and anthropologists that syphilis was present among the indigenous peoples of the Americas before Europeans discovered the New World. However, whether strains of syphilis were present in the entire world for millennia, or if the disease was confined to the Americas in the pre-Columbian era, is debated. Many scholars believe syphilis was a New World disease brought back by Christopher Columbus. “
In the work “Tractado contra el mal serpentino” written in 1510 and published in 1539, Ruy Diaz de Isla refers to have cured, during the travel of return in Europe, many members of the shipment of Columbus, ffections from certain luetic manifestations and thinks the new disease was imported from Hispaniola” (Di Cicco, 2008) The rapidly spreading disease was given several names, such as the “French disease,” after invading French soldiers either brought the infection to Italy or caught it from the Spanish mercenaries who fought along side them. The modern name was coined in 1530 by the Italian physician and writer Girolamo Fracastoro, who made poetic reference to a mythic Greek shepherd, Syphilus, who was cursed by the god Apollo with a dread disease.
The “pre-Columbian theory” claims that syphilis was present in Europe before the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Scholars from the 1700-1800’s believed the symptoms described by Hippocrates in Classical Greece were Syphilis in its tertiary form. There have been skeletal findings in Europe where the remnants seem to be damaged by syphilis though interpretation of this evidence has been disputed. “There are other suspected syphilis findings for pre-contact Europe, including at a 13–14th century Augustinian friary in the northeastern English port of Kingston upon Hull.
This city’s maritime history, with its continual arrival of sailors from distant places, is thought to have been a key factor in the transmission of syphilis. ” (Keys, 2000) Although folklore claimed that syphilis was unknown in Europe until the return of the diseased sailors of the Columbian voyages, Mercury was the remedy of choice for syphilis in pre-industrial Europe – the understanding of the sexually transmitted disease’s routes and this treatment gave birth to the expression: “A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury”. As syphilis became better understood, the ability to cure it increased.
In 1908, the arsenic based drug Salvarsan was developed and, while not 100% effective, was a massive step forward. Its lack of effectiveness in the tertiary phase led to malaria being used as a cure, since it seemed that those with high fevers could be cured of syphilis, malaria was used to induce an initial fever, which was considered an acceptable risk because malaria could be treated with quinine. Penicillin eventually confined both these treatments to syphilis history. Gonnorhea The etymology of gonorrhea comes from the Greek words “gono” which means “seed” and “rrhea” meaning “to flow.
This can be attributed to the flow of discharge from the penis caused by gonorrhea in men, and confusing this discharge of puss with semen. With the confusion, Gonorrhea was often mistaken for Syphilis in the Middle Ages, as without a microscope, the two had very similar symptoms. Of course, if one was diagnosed with Gonorrhea, one would be treated with Mercury or have the affected region causterized. “John Hunter championed its treatment with mercury and cauterization. He included his findings in his Treatise on the Venereal Disease, first issued in 1786. (Hoffman, 1818) Because of Hunter’s reputation, knowledge concerning the true nature of gonorrhea and syphilis was retarded, and it was not until many years later that his theory was proved to be wrong. It was not until 1879 when Albert Neisser discovered the cause of gonorrhea is a micro-organism.
“After much laboratory work by many investigators, Albert Neisser on July 12, 1879, described a micrococcus that he stated was the cause of gonorrhea… He later demonstrated these micrococci was without a doubt a separate disease (from syphilis) and was caused by the gonococcus. While continental bacteriologists in numbers speedily published reports confirming the observations by Neisser, it was not for several years after the event until progress was made in America. By the 19th century, silver nitrate was a widely used drug. Colloidal silver replaced silver nitrate, and was widely used until penicillin came to the rescue in the 1944. HIV/AIDS AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Acquired – means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease-causing agent (in this case, HIV).
Immunodeficiency – means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system. Syndrome – refers to a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain cells in a person’s immune system. Although many believe that AIDS has been around since as early as 1959 the first recorded case was in 1981. There was a lot of confusion on what the real deal with it was.
People didn’t have much of a grasp on where it came from, the effects on the person’s body that it caused, how it was transmitted to others, and if in fact there was any possible way to cure the deadly disease. “The dominant feature of this first period was silence, for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was unknown and transmission was not accompanied by signs or symptoms salient enough to be noticed. While rare, sporadic case reports of AIDS and sero-archaeological studies have documented human infections with HIV prior to 1970, available data suggest that the current pandemic started in the mid- to late 1970s.
By 1980, HIV had spread to at least five continents (North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia). During this period of silence, spread was unchecked by awareness or any preventive action and approximately 100,000-300,000 persons may have been infected. ” (Mann, 1989) Given the evidence we have already looked at, it seems highly likely that Africa was indeed the continent where the transfer of HIV to humans first occurred. Researchers concluded that the chimpanzees found in West Africa were highly likely the origin of the pandemic.