Sunday, July 16, 2017

When Having An Infectious Disease Was Fashionable And Socially Acceptable

While perusing the latest issue of the Lancet Infectious Disease I learned of an event titled Fashionable Diseases, which took place at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (April 2017). A Scottish news article on the event can be found here.

Yes, there was a time when having syphilis and even tuberculosis was trendy and even socially acceptable.Gout was seen as glorious, a reflection of affluence. Still, double standards abounded. Syphilis in men was a marker of sexual prowess. In women, sexually transmitted diseases were associated with prostitution and low morals. 

Although modern times are different (we now understand disease transmission and have treatments), some infectious diseases are still viewed through a societal lens. Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) and Syphilis (Treponema palladium) are both spirochetal diseases. Both have various phases of infection: early infection then later manifestations. Both are fully treatable with antibiotics.  Lyme disease is more commonly seen in Caucasian, upper middle class populations with tick exposures. Lyme advocacy groups are well rooted in the USA. The same cannot be said for syphilis, which is definitely not a socially acceptable spirochetal disease.

Although not seen as fashionable anymore, infectious diseases still evoke varied sympathies.


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