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Mar 2012

“We Are Mad Because of Syphilis ”

Arch Dermatol. 2012;148(3):384. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2011.3102

Among the indigenous inhabitants of the hamlet of Kynopiastes, on the island of Corfu, Greece, there is the perception that their somewhat whimsical temperament and the occasional cases of mental disorders are the result of the high prevalence of syphilis among their ancestors. According to their unquestionable convictions, revealed after local investigations, syphilis' effects must have been passed on as a local hereditary genetic feature.

The choice of syphilis as a cause of mental disorientation is partially reasonable. It is a known fact that tertiary syphilis' symptoms include confusion, personality changes, altered levels of consciousness, and psychotic symptoms. Temperament alterations, such as irritability and unpleasantness (appearing among modern Corfu inhabitants), are also evident in cases of neurosyphilis. Regarding the hereditary hypothesis, it probably rests on cases of congenital syphilis among adults (rarely manifesting as neurosyphilis), even though its genetic basis is entirely fiction.