When ideas live too long: coal & syphilis

5 Feb

so well written, had to reblog.

The Pitman Papers

FOR MORE than a century Western medical science treated patients diagnosed with syphilis by injecting a solution of mercuric chloride into their veins. Medicine had long been fascinated by the uses & effects of mercury, which is, among other things, the most toxic non-radioactive substance on the planet. Doctors had noted that rubbing mercury around the edges of syphilitic chancres seemed to stop the sores from spreading. Hardly surprising, given that it killed all the cells, but no matter. Doctors kept on experimenting, until some bright spark in 1830s Vienna came up with the idea of injecting the stuff.

What followed was the arrival of one of history’s most horrible illnesses, General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI). Nobody was ever cured of the pox, though millions died in agony. GPI was often mistaken for epilepsy, at least in its early stages. Sufferers lost feeling in their extremities, eventually becoming partly…

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