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Syphilis is increasing again. The “pleasure epidemic”, which Christian moral guards saw as God's punishment for an excessive sex life, was one of the greatest horrors in the 19th century - comparable to tuberculosis or cholera.
The epidemic was named French sickness because hundreds of French soldiers died of the epidemic during the siege of Naples at the end of the 16th century.
A sinful shepherd
In 1530, an Italian doctor wrote a poem about the lustful shepherd Syphilus, who was punished with illness as a punishment for his sexual obsessions.
Kings and writers
Ivan the Terrible suffered from it as did Catherine the Great, the knight Ulrich von Hutten and Louis XIV the Sun King. Syphilis met painters like Edouard Manet, writers like Guy de Maupassant and E.T. A. Hoffmann, politicians like Gabriel de Piqueti Mirabeau and Armand Jean du Plessis Richelieu.
Beethoven and Nietzsche
Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) lost his hearing due to the illness and spent the last 20 years in deafness.
Friedrich Nietzsche died on August 25, 1900 in Weimar. Nietzsche's first pathobiographer Moebius considered the philosopher's psychological disorders to be a typical consequence of syphilis. Whether Nietzsche suffered from syphilis is still controversial.
Syphilis or gonorrhea?
For centuries, syphilis had not been distinguished from gonorrhea, and both were referred to as syphilis, and Nietzsche had told friends about gonorrheal infections during his studies.
Since the nerve disorders only appear at a late stage of syphilis, it is quite possible that he was infected decades before. Cancer and overloading the central nervous system of the thinker are also being discussed.
Gauguin and Van Gogh
The painters Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin (died 1890 and 1903) both contracted the epidemic, as did Heinrich Heine and Goethe.
Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire
Lifeguards Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire both contracted venereal disease, and their conservative enemies blamed the two immigrants' “immoral” lives.
Hitler and Mussolini
The most prominent sufferers of syphilis were Adolf Hilter and Benito Mussolini. The dictator of Uganda, who wanted to pay homage to Hitler with a memorial at Lake Victoria, also became infected.
Hitler's mysterious blindness in Pasewalk was according to Dr. Neubauer describes the secondary stage of syphilis, more precisely iridocyclitis syphilitica. Because of this poor eyesight, Hitler needed a typewriter with particularly large letters.
Disappeared from consciousness
Today syphilis has disappeared from everyday consciousness - but not from hospitals. In contrast to AIDS, many people are aware of the "French disease", but rather as a historical phenomenon like the plague.
Thousands of infected
However, this is a fallacy: According to the Robert Koch Institute, 6834 people in Germany were infected with the disease in 2015 - and syphilis can still endanger life today. However, it can be combated very effectively in the early stages.
In 1905, the Berlin doctor Erich Hoffmann and the zoologist Fritz Schaudinn discovered the pathogen: Treponema pallidum, a bacterium, triggers the disease. It usually gets into the organism through oral or vaginal intercourse and penetrates through minor injuries.
According to Norbert Bockmeyer from the Center for Sexual Health and Medicine in Bochum, 60% of people who have unprotected traffic with infected people can become infected.
The first symptoms appear several weeks after the infection.
First, an ulcer forms, usually where the bacteria invaded, i.e. on the genitals or on the mouth. This ulcer heals, but that doesn't mean the all-clear.
The pathogens are now spread throughout the body. This starts stage 2. Those affected suffer from skin rash and fever. These symptoms also go away on their own.
The third stage often occurs years after infection. The sufferers sometimes suffer from psychoses and dementia. The bacteria often cause tissue in the brain and spinal cord to degrade. In the 19th century, this neurosyphilis was known as "syphilitic nonsense".
In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicilin, which made syphilis curable. In the first stage, a penicillin injection is usually enough to contain the disease and kill the bacteria.
Syphillis prevention equals AIDS prevention
In order not to get infected at all, the same rules apply as for safe sex to prevent AIDS. So use condoms during sexual intercourse. These do not offer 100% protection, but the risk of getting infected is rapidly decreasing.
A male disease
Homosexual men who have intercourse with other men are particularly affected. This is currently around 85% of those infected.
Syphillis is not a disease of homosexuals, but a disease of men. Only 6.2% of those infected are women.
Brockmeyer sees a "new carefree" as a decisive factor for the return of syphilis. Sexual partners would chat before the first erotic meeting and weigh in false security through this virtual getting to know each other.
Better AIDS medication
Another cause of the spread of the STD could be the advanced treatment of HIV patients. Today's medication curbs the number of viruses so well that even HIV-positive people can have unprotected sexual intercourse without infecting their partners.
The widespread practices of practicing safe sex at the end of the 1980s no longer appear to be absolutely necessary in AIDS, and the lack of protection enables the syphilis pathogen to penetrate better.
Hardly anyone thinks of syphilis
Syphillis disappeared so much from the perception that infected people often do not think of the disease in the two early stages - and this probably also affects many doctors.
A small ulcer that goes away on its own can have many causes, and complaints that go away are not usually classified as serious.
It is not: possible deafness, blindness or destroyed brain functions such as nerve damage may follow. Although syphilis usually no longer leads to death today, it can have serious long-term consequences. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)