The U.S. government has said it is sorry for using prostitutes to infect prison inmates in Guatemala with syphilis in the 1940s. Researchers were testing how effective penicillin was in treating syphilis. It’s an example of the government sacrificing people for the health of the entire herd.
The medical establishment’s research on and treatment of syphilis has a strange history. Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. government experimented on 400 poor black men from Alabama who had syphilis. This became known as the Tuskegee Experiment. The men were never told they had syphilis and were not given penicillin, the standard treatment for the disease. Many of the men died from the disease or from complications of it, while some of the men gave the disease to their wives and had children with congenital syphilis.
From the late 15th century for several hundred years, mercury, one of the most toxic substances in the world, was used by doctors as a treatment for syphilis in Europe and then in the U.S. While mercury killed bacteria, it had serious, often deadly side effects.
The use of mercury to treat syphilis in the past is explored by authors Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill in their new book, Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic. Olmsted, an award-winning journalist, and Blaxill, a Harvard-educated parent of a child with autism, discuss mercury in medicine, vaccines, pesticides, and fish, and the element’s toxic effects on humans. They describe how the medical establishment has used mercury to treat ailments, but ignored its side effects, which often mimic autism.
I interviewed Olmsted and Blaxill for Examiner.com last month. Here are some excerpts from the interview about mercury and syphilis, as syphilis is back in the news. Click here for the whole interview.
Mike Frandsen: You trace the medical establishment’s use of mercury to treat illnesses in the last several centuries. Why did doctors continue to use mercury even after they discovered it was toxic?
Dan Olmsted: I think one answer to that is that it seemed to work when nothing else really did. Mercury is a biologically active compound. If you have sores on your body, which you would get from syphilis, and you rub a mercury salve on it, the sores would clear up and seemingly that was a good thing. Unfortunately, the side effects were longer to show up and more obscure.
And what we see is a pattern where because it seemed to be useful to doctors in treating desperate patients, they would do it for a while and then when a better treatment came along they would quit using it and never look back and realize or acknowledge that they might have been killing people by the thousands even as they were treating them. It just kind of kept going, where we are still at a point where although we wouldn’t use arsenic or plutonium or lead or any toxic compound in medicine or as medicine, we still use mercury. And it has gotten a free pass for several hundred years and that we think really needs to stop.
Mercury was used to treat syphilis for hundreds of years. What happened to those patients?
Mark Blaxill: Mercury was used from the beginning of the syphilis epidemic in Europe from the late 15th century. Mercury was used as an ointment, a skin treatment, but over time, the idea was to try to get mercury closer to the infection or the site of the infection and not just on the skin. In the 1700s and 1800s people first started the practice of internal administration of mercury, specifically mercuric chloride, and doctors first began encouraging patients to drink it, and then not longer after, they started injecting mercuric chloride into syphilis patients.
Interestingly enough, when they started this internal administration approach to treating syphilis, a new, invariably fatal form of neurosyphilis, brain syphilis, began to emerge as well, something called general paralysis of the insane (GPI). These patients would go stock raving mad, wild and crazy with delusions and they would generally die quite quickly. These cases of GPI occurred in places where mercury treatments were common, and where the practice of treating patients with mercury chloride and mercury in general was not used, you would never see these cases of GPI.
If mercury is one of the causes of autism, and syphilis patients and children given teething powders were exposed to mercury, why didn’t they get autism?
Mark Blaxill: Syphilis patients were adults and so the exposure they had to mercury came much later in life. Autism is really a neurodevelopmental disease and it occurs in children very early in life. Once your brain is fully developed the exposure to mercury won’t have the same kind of effect.
Click here for the whole interview.