STD portraits: Syphilis

It was only within the last century that syphilis moved from dreaded life-long companion to minor nuisance and the villain in lifetime movies.

The first great outbreak in Europe happened during the 15th century. Charles VIII of France besieged the kingdom of Naples, claiming it was rightfully his through his Angevin line. It’s unknown whether the disease showed up within the walled city first or the attacking army and for that reason each side blamed the other for their sudden misfortune. The French believed the city had released its prostitutes for the explicit reason of weakening their number and the city believed the French had brought it with them.

peter the great

Peter the Great of Russia

Whoever was responsible, Charles’ army was so weakened by the outbreak, he blamed the “Neapolitan disease” for their failure.

Naturally, as troops returned home, the disease came with them and spread all across Europe. It later took on other names like “the Portuguese sore,”The Spanish disease” and “La Grosse Verole,” or the Great Pox.

Great Pox, it was, as it affected even heads of state. Peter the Great was among them along with Henry VIII, Louis XIV of France and Ivan the Terrible.

Most surprisingly, before the stuffy Victorians came and ruined everything, syphilis was known in the 16th century as the “gallant disease.”

source: Plagues and Poxes: The Impact of Human History of Epidemic Disease by Alfred Jay Bollet

Mortality and Morbidity in human history: Urinary Schistosomiasis

There is a parasitic worm that can be spread by contact with water contaminated with infected urine or feces or via snails. The worms develop and reproduce in snails and then can live in freshwater on their own for about two days.

If they are able to penetrate someone’s skin, they set up camp in the blood vessels and make lots of eggs. Some of the eggs migrate to the bladder and bowels where they can then pass back to the outside world but not before causing inflammation to the affected areas. Upon first contact, it can cause a rash. In a month or two, fever, chills, coughing and aches can develop. If left untreated, the worm can cause liver damage and in rare cases eggs can migrate to the brain and spinal cord and cause seizures or paralysis and the body tries to rid itself of the attacker.

ancient Egyptian fishermen

Ancient Egyptian fishermen

The Schistosoma haematobium worm can affect other parts of they body but my particular interest here is when it affects the urinary system. In ancient Egypt, it appears to have been a common affliction among fishermen. Initially, it causes hematuria, or blood in the urine. There is reason to believe that it may have been regarded as a “virile menstruation” because of the relative lack of information in medical papyri and because it disproportionately affected young men.






Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs by Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind


You know nothing Jon Snow

Actually, Ygritte said it more like, “YOU KNOW NUFFIN’ JON SNRRRR.”

But it’s not that Jon Snow anyway.


John Snow, the English Physician is kind of a rock star in epidemiology. He helped find the source of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854. By observation and interviews of affected people and those around them, he was able to trace the outbreak to a public water pump. The city soon shut it down by removing the handle and the epidemic subsided.

Mad Marmots will have your ass


Turns out the fur trade, now industry, sucks for more reasons than I thought. One of the ways the Black Death was spread in the 14th century was by fur trappers and hunters. Marmots were trapped for their fur in Central Asia and taken West along the trade routes. Around this time, many were found already dead, likely from plague, skinned and shipped off to Western Russia and Europe.

On a side note, marmots are super cute critters. I got to see some on a trip to the Olympic Peninsula.


from Plagues & Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease by Alfred Jay Bollet

Anti-tuberculosis Propaganda


I watched a documentary just now called “The Forgotten Plague.” It’s about TB in America. Once public health officials caught on to its contagious nature, they launched a massive campaign to educate people on the importance minimizing transmission. According to the documentary, men were even moved to trim or shave their beards lest they bring TB home in their facial hair.

I saw this slogan on a flyer with a baby on it and suddenly this watercolor that has been sitting around for a year made sense.