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The following program was produced by a group w o the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and is distributed to educational stations by the national educational radio network throughout the centuries few subjects have been beset with as many superstitions as many myths or as much mis information as has the subject of the near-EOP disease. Some of these today are amusing even today many are dangerous. For instance this one noted by Northwestern University's Dr Bergen Evans. In my boyhood it was a constant same one heard all of the time that a dose was no worse than a common cold. But even with modern medicine this in fact thickly is not true especially since the very city encourages the ignorant to allow an infection to go untreated. Thinking that like a cult it will run its course and cure itself unfortunately. Both of the major revenue real diseases may seem to do just this. Meanwhile infecting others and progressing in the infected person to a much more dreadful reckoning. Yes VD can progress to a dreadful reckoning and perhaps the
most dangerous of all the miss is the one that says VD has been conquered that it's nothing to reckon with at all. This is not true. In fact it's believed that syphilis still causes about a thousand deaths a month. And it's estimated that 1965 saw an increase of about 100000 cases of infectious VD over the previous year. The D is not conquered. It's a growing problem especially among our youth for that reason. To save lives not to be sensational Group W Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in cooperation with the Columbia University School of Public Health and administrative medicine and with the American Social Health Association is bringing you this series of reports on VD venereal disease. Your reporter Walter McGraw before going into this project I too believed some of the myths about VD but that the United States
Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta. I found out that you cannot get syphilis from a camel bite. And that DDT was not brought to Europe from the Middle East by Crusaders. My informant was William Schwartz educational consultant to the venereal disease branch. There is a lot of talk in South America about the llama. Who are they Yama. Which of course is a relative of the camel being a vector of syphilis and if in fact this superstition was so strong at one time that the Peruvian government quite a long time ago passed a law that a Yama train driver was not allowed to cross the mountains with a Yama train unless he was accompanied by a woman because it was considered that a woman was safer to have along than a Yama. However I believe that this superstition has fallen into disrepute. I have no evidence that the army or the camel or any of its relatives is in fact a vector of syphilis who cannot get a camel but didn't know
about the only thing you could get it from is one of the higher apes and I doubt that most people would be in that close contact with the higher apes. What then are the origins of gonorrhea and syphilis syphilis and gonorrhea have been with us almost as long as there have been people and we have archaeological evidence of the existence of syphilis particularly in ancient Egypt and in the ancient ruins in South America. Gonorrhea was mentioned as far back as Biblical times there are frequent references to diseases which must be gonorrhea in the Bible. However until about the end of the 15th century people had not been aware in Western civilization of the existence of syphilis. They first noticed it came to attention was shortly after Columbus's first voyage to the new world. It's generally believed that Columbus himself contracted syphilis
in the West Indies and in fact also that of Martin Alonzo Paine's own who was a scion of the family which put up the money for the paint and the niña also contracted the disease. Columbus is believed to have died from syphilitic insanity about 12 years later. The origins of this virulent new form of syphilis which it seems came to Europe from what is now Hedy has been the subject of much medical detective work. We have few answers some guesses. According to the director of the venereal disease research laboratory Dr. Leslie Norman it's unlike many infectious diseases but there are a few diseases to which it's closely related. Perhaps the most prevalent one of these would be called your Was Y A W S. Yours is a disease mostly of the skin in warm humid tropical type countries and the germ which causes your laws is spiral in shape just like a germ which causes syphilis. And in fact they are so similar they cannot be
told apart under the microscope. So this hints of syphilis which in our society is a venereal disease spread most frequently by skin to skin contact is in its history perhaps related to y'all as a skin disease of the tropics as some have suggested that as people became more urbanized and they have begun to wear clothes the germs of yore was found a way to spread around from one person to another because we're not really in skin to skin contact the way that natives who wear only a loincloth would be in contact with each other. So the germ has gone to the only warm moist places it can find which is not in our general climate so it can't be out of our skin instead it has migrated in a sense toward the warm moist regions of the body and there it lives I mean the Darwin theory works with germs just as it does with people in a sense it's the Darwin theory of germs. At any rate by the early fifteen hundred years Europe was in the midst of an epidemic again.
Dr. Bergen Evans it was first described by a Spanish physician Dr. De Isa who actually witnessed the disembarkation of Columbus's man and apparently witnessed some of being carried off. He called it the disease of Espanol. Then in 50 98 the scholar Las Casas visited the island of Espanyol and questioned the natives about the disease. He stated that it had been there before the Spaniards A-Rod but it had been much more severe among the Spaniards than among the natives. Which is exactly what we would expect if the disease were unknown in Europe. It was quite an argument among medical historians as to whether this was really the beginning of surplus in Europe or whether it had been there before. Perhaps under another name for so used to be very common in the middle ages and some people believe that perhaps leprosy it was simplest but most medical opinion most medical stories are now inclined to believe that this was a disease in what was later called the New World and that it was contracted by Columbus as men for the first time and it acted like that that is it was not a severe disease among the Indians but when brought into a population which was
unfamiliar then it immediately became variant and epidemic and widespread because we do know that within a year or two Columbus has returned a child to France was preparing for a great military campaign and mercenary soldiers flock to his army from all over Europe. Now apparently some came from Spain where the disease was already spreading his army became polluted by this new disease. And so Vera when did it become the army was almost destroyed by it he marched into Italy and spread the disease southward through Italy and then in 14 95 only two years after the return of Columbus's men. He had to give up the siege of Naples and his army just broke to pieces and the infected troops returning to their various countries spread this new and terrible disease all over Europe. It was something new and it needed a name. At first it was called the Neapolitan disease or the Spanish sickness but most of all because the French army had spread it.
It was called the French disease or in Latin morbus Gallagher's for centuries it was called the French disease and is still in English Russian Polish Dutch Czech German Hungary and Portuguese dish. And even in Icelandic. Long distance before they drop dead. Though the French themselves never called the French disease they called it the Spanish disease or the Italian disease or the Neapolitan disease. In England after the first onslaught among its early victims by the way Henry ate one of the charges brought against Cardinal Woolsey at his trial. Was that by breathing on him with the aid he had infected him with this disease in the manner of transmission was not fully understood. But at first in England it was called the pox because of the disfiguring postulate that it caused and this remained the standard term in English up until the 18th century. The name syphilis by which we now politely know it was given to the disease by the great Italian physician here on a mass for historians who was not only a physician but a
poet and he wrote his treatise on the disease in poetry it would seem a little strange to us but physicians did it then. And he told it in the form of a story and here all of his poetic narrative was an unhappy young man called syphilis that doesn't think it's because of all of this very satisfactory name for a hero but so he was caught. The poem was called syphilis or the French disease the hero in the poem contracts the disease suffers all of its progressive horrors and dies of it. This poem was published in 15 30 in 15 46 and his great work on contagion from Pistorius used the name of his own hero for the name of the disease and so the word passed in the medical language though the word syphilis did not appear in English until 17 18 almost 200 years later and probably serving as a euphemism or a decency help to make the older word the pox disreputable which by the way illustrates the virulence of this disease when it first appeared when one reflects that that dreadful disease the
smallpox is only the small pox compared to what was sometimes called the great pox. Again William Schwartz within the next 15 years syphilis had been carried around Africa by the crew of Vasco to gammas ship to India and on to China and Japan. And we know that syphilis at that time within that period took no fewer than 10 million lives and had the history of medicine is almost a history of it tends to cure syphilis they've used everything from Deer dung to medicinal that was derived from the bark of the tree in the West Indies. Probably the most effective thing in ancient times was mercury they used him mercury which was rubbed into the skin and this had the effect of probably killing more people than it actually cured. But later on our Senechal came into
use as a treatment for syphilis particularly with the discovery of the formula 6 0 6 by Professor Eric I'm sure everyone has heard of Dr. Alec's magic bullet. There's a rather interesting sidelight to this. Dr. Eric's formula was patented in the United States but it was patented in the name of a German cartel which owned formula and when World War won came along syphilis actually was knocking out about six to seven percent of all the draftees in World War 1. So they decided since we could not buy 6 0 6 or salver san. From this German cartel we would violate the patent and manufacture the drug in this country to treat our soldiers. And when we went to reproduce the formula from the patent application it was found that the formula had been so garbled that it could not be reproduced. It had been intentionally garbled.
Consequently some public health scientists in Massachusetts had to rediscover 6 0 6 0 a salver sand all over again which they did in a very few months. So they began to use it with the soldiers later they added Bismuth to it. But alternate injections of arsenic and bismuth were requiring about seventy two weekly shots to complete in one thousand forty two. They began to think in terms of rapid treatment. Again as a result of the draft and they did cut it down to a round the clock sort of treatment schedule and cut the treatment to 15 days. Then penicillin came in this was rather interesting too because Sir Alexander Fleming had discovered penicillin back around 1929 and it had lain around all of those years without anybody
making very much use of it. And then at the Public Health Service Hospital at Staten Island they decided to try penicillin for syphilis and sure enough it was a cure. Unusual as it may seem penicillin was accepted as a cure for syphilis on the basis of only four cases the cases were that dramatic. Then it was tried on going to Rio and Dr. James de Fe or now with the venereal disease research laboratory was at Staten Island at the time venereal disease work was being pushed by one of our great surgeons general Dr. Thomas Perrin are preparing got the Congress to set up their venereal disease program. A small laboratory was started and this was under the direction of Dr. John friend Mahoney who later became commissioner of health at New York City the laboratory grew they had first I think about three people and then I was brought in and then following that several others
and our first work was actually the testing of so far in my therapy and treatment of gonorrhea in this country that was highly successful at first until Lee gonna Cockers the organism that causes gonorrhea develop the capability to resist the action of the drug. Fortunately at that time penicillin appeared on the scene. But in those early days and we didn't have much and what we had was allocated to the armed services mostly we had very little penicillin today. We waste more than that I suppose unfairly in a syringe but that well not quite but it was very little. So Dr. Mahoney said well we will prepare our own penicillin. So I was sent off to Peoria Illinois and learned how to make it and we had to have a chemist to purify it and in those days it was so valuable and precious that
the patient's urine was saved and extracted for penicillin nothing was thrown away. My own experience is that a young merchant seaman in Boston was flown down to our laboratory because he had gonorrhea in the eye. He had succeeded in fact in his eye. Oh my going to say look bad I want to see this man every hour to see and culture his eye and make examination. I live near the hospital my wife said she could tell the patient was getting better as I came home between each examination my step was light and it was just a miracle the way that I cleared out in a matter of four hours it was culturally negative. I could no longer find the organism's save the sign. What were the results of penicillin therapy again. Were you with warts between then and in 1952 penicillin was improved so much that we were able to close all
the in-patient facilities in this country for the treatment of syphilis. Because by that time. Almost all syphilis could be cured by a single treatment. And as the disease began to drop people said OK now let's get to other things which are more important and stop fooling around with this nasty disease. There is a lot of Public Health called Brown's Law of Public Health which says that as a control program approaches the end point of eradication it's the program rather than the disease which has the greater tendency to be eradicated. It's been very much at times like a a football teams being penalized by having one man removed for each five yard gain. And of course you can say that the closer you would get to the opposite goal the more likelihood would it be that the other side would steal the ball and take the game in one thousand fifty five. We reached a low
point in American history for the number of cases of new syphilis reported in that year. Only 6000 new cases were reported for the entire country. But from a high of 17 million dollars a year in federal funds we were reduced in that year to a low of three million dollars. I might also add that state and local funds have never been sufficient to pay for the activities that are necessary for the eradication of this to CDs. Well as soon as the funds were withdrawn the following year in fact syphilis began and a remarkable resurgence in this country and it has been going up every year until this year which will be the first year in 10 in which there are reported cases of early infectious syphilis are fewer than in a previous year.
And it should be added that gunnery Apollo did much the same pattern. It went down in the mid-1950s and then went up again and continues to rise. In 1965 there were 100000 more cases of gonorrhea reported than in 1942 the year penicillin was found to be a cure. Some details on why were losing after our almost victory over VD in just a moment. In Chapel Hill Dr. William Fleming is chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina. He's also chairman of the VD Committee of the American Social Health Association. Why did our incidence of VD drop so dramatically and why is it rising no when due to a combination of fact not all of which we know about by APs one of the main ones was that in
1938 a very active public clinic program was instituted in the United States stimulated by federal funds. This was very necessary on the day is fun hos and they can best mouth treatment as you choose because best for a quad week great treatment of opera long Perry had and was very expensive and difficult to administer. Not suited for the physician's office. So during the rod s public program helped to reduce what otherwise would have been an increased attack right associated with the wall. After the WAF are a period of five or more years as the public program was continued on abated and during this time penicillin was introduced which was much easier to administer and could be given overall much shot a period. So the attack Riot went
down due to this well logon as a public clinic and public control program and also some think that the rather indiscriminate use of penicillin. But why go on for a Perry add 1 lb a Cylon was considered to be the one to draw GD good for the common cold and everything else resulted in the accidental treatment. Many cases of Cephalus even in the incubate and period of the does a is lay at the end discriminate use upon a solid and last and consent are Blay so that infected individuals who are much less likely to be treated accidentally. Some other fact as in the inquiries that have been made John included while on the public control program was excessively weakened and cited a prima till way weakened. The increased Eban as a Shan after the
walk on dotted Lake contributed to the recrudescence of self-less because I want people I have close to Galva promiscuous individuals can have even more off sex contacts they have on dotted line all of the factors involved such things as homosexuality. We don't really know that homosexuality has increased although perhaps it has with increased Eban as ation we do know now about all them before that homosexuality is a very important factor and Sparano suffer less. But I think perhaps the most important factor. Other than the decrease in the public control program was the fact that the introduction of penicillin treatment made the treatment of self-less. So while I adapted to the private physicians office that the main
locale of diagnosis and treatment of the disease is shifted from the public clinic to the private physician's office a private physician. Understandable I has not reported but Mary Altos they is is as well as he reports of the communicable diseases. This has resulted in many cases of infectious awful us not being in a view to fall via sex contacts as is done in public clinics. Consequently that contacts and associates who are likely to be in the infectious suffer list by them Savas. It has not been possible to find the As and when you have a president and fractiousness ought to be at least shot in the period of infectiousness so I passed nothing but the shift of the locale of diagnosis and treatment to the private physicians office and the difficult is because of
a patient's does for private say in carrying out epidemiology investigation has been a major factor epidemiologic investigation. The detective work involved in finding and bringing to treatment infectious cases will be the subject of the next of these reports on VD produced by a group w Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in cooperation with the Columbia University School of Public Health and administrative medicine and with the American Social Health Association Bill kale and his executive producer. Your reporter Walter McGraw. This is the national educational radio network.
The V.D. epidemic
The great almost victory
Producing Organization
Westinghouse Broadcasting Company
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features Dr. Bergen Evans of Northwestern University; Dr. William Fleming, chairman of American Social Health Association's V.D. Committee; William Schwartz; and Dr. Leslie Norins.
Series Description
A series about a venereal disease epidemic in the 1960s, especially among teenagers.
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Interviewee: Schwartz, William
Interviewee: Evans, Bergen, 1904-1978
Interviewee: Fleming, William
Interviewee: Norins, Leslie C.
Producing Organization: Westinghouse Broadcasting Company
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-40-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:27
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Chicago: “The V.D. epidemic; The great almost victory,” 1967-09-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023,
MLA: “The V.D. epidemic; The great almost victory.” 1967-09-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <>.
APA: The V.D. epidemic; The great almost victory. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from