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Syphilis and the Tuskegee Study by Emily Meininger

By at October 14, 2011 | 7:41 am | Print

Syphilis is a sexual transmitted disease that has increased significantly in the United States in the past decade. Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum; this infection is mostly spread by sexual contact and spreads from skin to skin or mucous membranes.

There are four stages of Syphilis that occur when a person becomes infected. The first stage is Primary Syphilis which is when a chancre develops, also known as a small sore. The second stage is Secondary Syphilis. During this stage, the chancre is healing, but a person will break out with a whole body rash. This rash doesn’t itch, but it can produce warts where the bacterium was entered such as the mouth or genital region. Other symptoms during this stage are fever, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. During the primary and secondary stages is when syphilis is contagious.  The third stage is known as the Latent Syphilis. This is commonly known as the hidden stage because there are no signs of any symptoms. A person can go years without seeing any symptoms for having this sexually transmitted disease. The fourth stage is the Tertiary or Late Syphilis. Unless a person has been treated for syphilis within the first two stages, a person can experience damage to their eyes, heart, brain, nerves, and many other parts of the body. Congenital Syphilis refers to women who have this infection and give birth to a baby. The baby can become infected through the placenta and during birth. Syphilis can cause this baby to have teeth deformities, saddle nose, and even become deaf later on in life.

Syphilis is entered through the body by cuts from skin to skin, mucous membranes, and even kissing. People who have unprotected sex, engage in sexually activity with multiple partners, men who have sex with other men, and people that are infected with HIV have a higher risk factor of receiving syphilis. Without treatment, syphilis can cause major damage throughout the body. Syphilis can cause neurological problems, tumors or small bumps, HIV infection, cardiovascular problems, and childbirth complications. Syphilis can be tested through blood, cerebral fluid, and fluid from sores. Syphilis is easy to cure only during the early stages with the antibiotic known as penicillin. For women that are pregnant, penicillin is the only treatment for infected women. If a person has been cured from syphilis, that person can become re-infected if coming in contact with the disease.

The Tuskegee Study took place from 1930s to 1972. It was the study of the effects of untreated syphilis on African American men which took place in Macon County, Alabama. The men associated with the study received free medical examinations, but were never told they were infected with syphilis. These men went through endless pain and suffered from this infection. At the beginning of the study there were 399 men who were in the Latent Stage of Syphilis, and 201 men later joined the study. Most people in Macon County knew about the Tuskegee Study, and physicians were told not to treat them. Penicillin is the treatment for the early stages of syphilis. Penicillin came out in the 1940s and that is when the Tuskegee Study became unethical because it was still not offered to any infected African American at that time. The Tuskegee Study continued until 1972. There were many African American men who died from this sexually transmitted disease. Not only did the men die, but some of their wives contracted the disease which then led their children receiving Congenital Syphilis.

References

cdc.gov tuskegee http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/faq.htm
mayoclinic syphilis http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/syphilis/DS00374

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