Also known as syph, lues, or (nasty!) the French pox. In short, left untreated the illness will lead to a fairly awful death within a period of months to decades. It begins witha coin-sized lesion that goes away by itself, next a rash, then lesions covering the entire body, ending in dementia, hallucinationsand psychotic episodes. A sunken nose, which many associate with syphilis, occurs when lesions from the roof of the mouth break through to the nose.
With the discovery of penicillin, the occurrence of syphilis has been greatly reduced. Since the 1990s, the number of cases is rising steadily, particularly in large cities. In 2015, there were approximately 7,000 cases reported in Germany.
It can be treated with injections, usually penicillin. Treatment length depends on how far the illness has progressed.
Why the term French pox? The French were apparently responsible for the first syphilis epidemic. The deadly plague was probably imported to Spain by Columbus‘s sailors and then passed on to the French troops at the battle for Naples (they didn’t spend all their time fighting after all…). Soldiers returning home saw to it spreading further. (Almost) not worth mentioning: In France, the plague was called, “Mal de Naple” (= Italian disease). The tradition of passing the blame to geographic neighbors and/ or political opponents was not at all unusual.