Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet
S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University
of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.
Osler called it the Great Imitator (an appellation lately claimed by
systemic lupus erythematosus, now that syphilis is treatable early and the
secondary and tertiary manifestations are rarely seen). The poem of Girolamo
Fracastoro (1478?-1553), "Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus" ("Syphilis, or the
French Disease"), gave it its name, but many people still named it for their
foes, who were presumed to be less fastidious: French disease (as in the poem's
subtitle), Neapolitan disease, etc. For some time, it was known, at least
in English-speaking countries, as the Pox (as distinct from the small pox).
But diagnosis was less precise before the Virchowian era, and many symptoms
were lumped under single names where modern medicine distinguishes among a
number of possibilities. Deborah Hayden has thus given herself a large task:
who among the famous had syphilis and where and when did this disease originate?
Ehrlich GE. Syphilis. JAMA. 2003;289(24):3311-3312. doi:10.1001/jama.289.24.3311