Neurosyphilis

Neurosyphilis is what happens when you don’t treat syphilis and it spreads to your brain.

Depiction of a man in a fumigation stove, engraving by Jacques Laniet, Paris, 1659, as published in a Romanian book in 1933

Depiction of a man in a fumigation stove, engraving by Jacques Laniet, Paris, 1659, as published in a Romanian book in 1933

Where did the name come from?

Syphilis, or the French Disease by Giralomo Fracastoro, published in 1530

The sun went pallid for his righteous wrath
And germinated poisons in our path.
And he who wrought this outrage was the first
To feel his body ache, when sore accursed.
And for his ulcers and their torturing,
No longer would a tossing, hard couch bring
Him sleep. With joints apart and flesh erased,
Thus was the shepherd flailed and thus debased.
And after him this malady we call
SYPHILIS, tearing at our city’s wall
To bring with it such ruin and such a wrack,
That e’en the king escaped not its attack.

Blame Game

From the very beginning, syphilis has been a stigmatized, disgraceful disease; each country whose population was affected by the infection blamed the neighboring (and sometimes enemy) countries for the outbreak.

So, the inhabitants of today’s Italy, Germany and United Kingdom named syphilis ‘the French disease’, the French named it ‘the Neapolitan disease’, the Russians assigned the name of ‘Polish disease’, the Polish called it ‘the German disease’, The Danish, the Portuguese and the inhabitants of Northern Africa named it ‘the Spanish/Castilian disease’ and the Turks coined the term ‘Christian disease’. Moreover, in Northern India, the Muslims blamed the Hindu for the outbreak of the affliction. However, the Hindu blamed the Muslims and in the end everyone blamed the Europeans. 

Saint Mary and the Holy Child punishing the sufferers of syphilis, woodcut, 1496

Saint Mary and the Holy Child punishing the sufferers of syphilis, woodcut, 1496