Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium, Treponema pallidum. Syphilis has a long history - the earliest outbreak was recorded in 1494! Syphilis raged across Europe and South America during the 16th century. And during World War I, syphilis was the 2nd most common reason for soldiers missing duty.
Famous people throughout history have had syphilis, from Beethoven, Henry VIII and the writer Leo Tolstoy, to Al Capone, Abe Lincoln and Vincent Van Gogh. At the turn of the 20th century, it was estimated that up to 1 in 10 men in Western countries had syphilis. But the use of penicillin as a cure in the 1940’s started to win the war against syphilis. As recently as 1999, there were only a handful of cases reported and we thought syphilis could be eliminated in Canada.