from the new world the syphilis epidemic was first seen in 1495

from the new world; the syphilis epidemic was first seen in 1495 amongst the army of Charles VIII of France during his invasion of Naples. From the onset syphilis had a devastating impact. Its symptomology of genital sores, abscesses, body pain, and ulcers spreading across the body was not only hideous but at later stages deadly with organ failure and madness. Bacteria which caused syphilis was from the outset morally disgraceful. From the beginning it was linked to sex work and the lack of medical knowledge, ignorance of the population, and being linked to socio economic factors led to its spread to all corners of the globe and every level of society. During the late1400’s a massive migration of men and women was occurring. Men and women were leaving the country side to seek work in the growing cities. While men might seek work in the trades and leave their families at home typically women entered employment as a wet nurse, midwife or prostitute. With men being away from their families they were extended a large amount of freedom and able to disregard social morals and use prostitutes. Once syphilis appeared in these cities a cycle was quickly established and the mode of transference through prostitution occurred. Men would not only use one prostitute possibility infecting many while they were away and on their return home would infect their family. The prostitutes themselves would then go on to infect more men. If Syphilis isn’t already devious enough, the disease operates in a way such that it appears designed to be spread. After infection, Syphilis goes through three key phases. Syphilis affects the body in three stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The first stage, begins approximately 3 weeks after contraction and the appearance of a sores, appearing at the sight of contraction of the bacteria. The bacteria grows in these sores and while they will vanish in 3 – 6 weeks the secondary stage of syphilis, the skin rash that will cover the body in brown spots also vanishing in a few weeks. The symptoms of the disease may not be seen for many years however the bacteria will remain slowly infecting throughout the body. It was at this point during this period that Syphilus becomes difficult to recognise as symptoms of the tertiary stage may not appear for many years. During the tertiary stage the bacteria may damage the brain, skin, liver, bones, eyes and joints resulting in symptoms of paralysis, blindness, madness, and the eventual appearance of painful skin lesions that cause organ failure and death. While prostitutes were usually the first to make contact with the disease there was no way in telling who they may have passed the disease onto due to the delay in time it might take to show symptoms at the various stages. If she was found to have symtpoms the prostitute would typically find her-self unemployed. It was therefore important for the prostitute to hide any symptoms that may become present during the first two stages.

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