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The Naked Truth The Sexual Health Blog

Famous People Throughout History With Syphilis

March 21st, 2012 by Brent Reily, Staff Writer


Sexually transmitted diseases are not as uncommon as many people think. It is estimated that there are 19 million new infections each year, and young people are particularly at risk. However, STDs are not a new concern. Throughout history, sexually transmitted diseases have been a serious health issue, even though the diseases weren’t always recognized or understood for what they are.

Syphilis was a particular concern because it was a debilitating and life-threatening illness (it still is if it is left untreated, however, modern medicine has afforded us antibiotics as an effective treatment). Earlier generations were not so lucky, and syphilis was a confusing and sometimes deadly diagnosis. In fact, it is even believed that famous poet William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose” is about a woman who catches syphilis from her secret lover, and he describes the virus as “The invisible worm/that flies in the night.”

Consider this list of famous people throughout history who are believed to have suffered from syphilis:

George Washington: The first president of the United States is rumored to have died from syphilis.

Al Capone: Famous Chicago gangster is best known for his nefarious needs around the time of Prohibition, but most people don’t know that he also ended up dying from syphilis.

Scott Joplin: The so-called King of Ragtime was alleged to have a penchant for prostitutes, and later in life he is believed to have succumbed to syphilis.

Christopher Columbus: The famous explorer is believed to have died from syphilis while in prison.

Napoleon: The well-known conqueror is rumored to have died from syphilis, and it is even alleged that the arsenic which was found in his system was part of a popular treatment for syphilis at that time.

As you can see, syphilis does not pick and choose its victims based on race, age, class, or personal accomplishment. Anyone can contract the STD, just like anyone can contract numerous other types of STDs. And, while we are fortunate enough to have better medical treatment in the modern era, medication can only be effective if the patient is correctly diagnosed and receives treatment. That is why it is so crucial to receive STD testing and to monitor your sexual health. Visit www.sexualhealth.com to learn more about testing and to safeguard your future.


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