Chapter II, Propagation, from Berkeley Hill and Authur Cooper’s The Student’s Manual of Venereal Disease, 1881


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THE causes of syphilis are predisposing and exciting. Predisposing causes

are conditions facilitating the spread or increasing the severity of the disease.

Syphilis is more severe in cold than in temperate climates; and in hot ones

for natives of cooler climates.  Any cause which enfeebles the condition of the

individual, increases the severity of syphilis.  All races are subject to the

disease: when invading a district not previously accustomed to it, its course,

like that of other contagious diseases, is for a time more severe.  Probably

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there are individuals insusceptible to syphilis, who escape that contagion as

they escape the contagion of scarlet fever.

                The sole exciting cause of syphilis is a subtle principle called the virus.  The

poison must be passed from the infected to the non-infected, and it enters

only at a breach of surface.  It is non-volatile, easily destroyed by altering the

chemical constitution of its vehicle, by the aciton of heat or acids.

                The vehicles of the virus are—The secretions of all early syphilitic

affections and the blood; but the fluids of the body usually cease to be contagious

when only the so-called tertiary affections are left.  It is uncertain

whether the saliva, milk, or semen, unless mixed with syphilitic secretions,

can convey the disease.

                The secretions of  co-existing diseases in syphilitic persons may be also contagious;

certainly the disease is often transferred when matter of soft chancre,

or vaginal discharges, are inoculated, and occasionally by vaccination.

                Modes of contagion.—Mainly by sexual intercourse, less frequently

by examining diseased persons, by suckling, by sucking wounds, by using

unclean instruments, spoons, cups, and other articles.

                Contagion by Inheritance—Our knowledge is imperfect respecting

the ways in which syphilis is transmitted from parent to child.  There is no

doubt that if the mother be infected before or at conception, the child is very

likely to receive the disease.  Probably the child may contract the disease, if

the mother be infected in the early months of pregnancy  If she be infected

after the seventh month, the child often escapes.  As the disease subsides in

the mother the chances of escape for the child greatly increase, and after the

second or third year of the mother’s infection the child commonly escapes.

                Infection from the Father.—Indirectly, the child may receive the

disease from the father if the mother is also attacked.   It is believed by some

that the child may inherit the disease fro the father, while the mother

escapes; but this is not established beyond doubt.

                It is supposed that the mother may become infected from the foetus; this

still remains doubtful.