Adventures in Digital History

Neurosyphilis

My source of the week is actually inspired by a topic that keeps coming up in of my several classes this week. Since it keeps coming up, I began looking for a good source to provide for this post this week.

After reading through the chapters assigned to us from Empire of Depression, I realized the topic of neurosyphilis was familiar because if had been brought up in Conspiracy Theories with Dr. Harris, and in my Communications and Rhetoric class with (a different) Dr. Harris. The Tuskegee Institute experiments on African American males with syphilis is an example of one of the most notorious and unethical case studies conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the study was to observe the effects of syphilis when untreated, despite penicillin becoming the treatment of choice by the 1940s and by the end of the study in the 1970s it was entirely treatable. The worst part is that the men were not informed of the nature of the experiment, and many died as a result.

Empire of Depression reminded me of this because Julius Wagner-Jauregg used infectious diseases to try and cure neurosyphilis. Neurosyphilis occurs in the coverings of the brain, the brain itself, or the spinal cord, and most often occurs in people with untreated syphilis. It is also a form of the disease investigated in the Tuskegee Institute. Neurosyphilis was obviously the result in many of the Tuskegee patients, who suffered neurosyphilis after purposefully being left untreated.

For my source, I looked into Susan Reverby’s Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy (2013). I believe Reverby’s book would provide good insight into the aftermath, and most likely provide information on the effects of untreated syphilis. Sadly I was not able to look into the book myself since it is locked behind a paywall, but the reviews and summaries I could find online looked promising.

Reverby, Susan M. Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy. Chapel Hill: University Of North Carolina Press, 2013.

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