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Why syphilis? It's coming back sir.

Make Syphilis History is a campaign developed for the BC Centre for Disease Control to increase awareness of syphilis, primarily in the gay community. Vancouver sees the most cases of infectious syphilis in the province, where the highest rate of increase is amongst men 20-29 years old. The campaign features historic figures who were known or suspected to have had syphilis in their lifetime, drawing attention to the prevalence of the disease and need for regular testing.

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Real or Imagined Syphilis?

Napoleon He was exiled from France, syphilis his only friend. It was commonly known that the French military leader was taking arsenic, a common treatment for syphilis, but Napoleon’s cause of the death is still speculative. However, evidence points to gastric cancer. In the last 6 months of his life, he was often ill. Doctor Francesco Antommarchi, his doctor, reported that Napoleon had strong abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, which were indications common to abdominal cancer.
Capone He evaded the FBI but couldn’t outrun syphilis. Tax evasion sent him to prison in 1932. Once there, he was officially diagnosed with syphilis, gonorrhea, and a cocaine withdrawal. Capone was suffering from the effects of cocaine withdrawal and from neurosyphilis which eroded his mental capacity. He was paroled on November 16, 1939. In the 1940s, Capone was one of the first people to receive penicillin for syphilis.
Tolstoy He wrote War and Peace in six years with no signs of syphilis. Tolstoy believed the world would be better where there were no marriages or sex. Late in his life his bouts with syphilis were thought to be part of his views on sex. He argued that "the extinction of the human species would be a small price to pay for the immediate cessation of all sexual intercourse." Leo Tolstoy died from pneumonia, aged eighty-two on November 7, 1910.
Ivan the Terrible Ivan was a terrible husband who was married 8 times. Three of his wives were poisoned. One drowned and two were sent to a convent. Historians point to Ivan’s sickly nature as proof of syphilis. That and the documented treatment of most women he came into contact with. He was exhumed after his death and tests proved conclusive for syphilis. Ivan’s remains were full of mercury. Syphilis was treated with mercury.
Lincoln How honest was Honest Abe, his friend and law partner would say. The president contracted the disease around the 1830s. He took mercury pills for over 10 years to fight the disease. It is also thought he gave the disease to his wife, who may have died from the disease, along with several of his infant children. Historians commonly reject the syphilis theory while many physicians support it.
Beethoven Speculation that Beethoven had syphilis has never been proven. The theory was based on his association with prostitutes and the high chance of contracting the disease that went along with his “visits”.
Ivan the Terrible
Henry VIII Henry had a lot of wives and medical issues. His wives also had children with medical issues. It is impossible to say specifically what medical problems Henry and his family members suffered from. What is certain is that besides the syphilis and gout and obesity and infidelity he was a pretty normal husband.
Van Gogh Van Gogh was very well known to local prostitutes which led to a bought of gonorrhea in 1882. In 1885, he suffered from open mouth sores and lost a lot of weight because he was unable to eat. During these visits it was thought he also contracted syphilis.
Henry VIII
Van Gogh
(Rejected Characters)
A lot of real dicks
got syphilis

Find out what notorious dictactors had syphilis.

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A midnight Rendezvous with a prostitute in Vienna may have given Hitler syphilis. It is the common theory of how Hitler was invaded by the disease. Hitler’s doctor, Theo Morrell, alluded to several ailments of Hitler’s as proof. Severe gastric crises, Parkinson’s disease, and skin lesions as well as his well known violent mood swings were also cited as proof.

Benito Mussolini

A grenade wound really? Historian Paul O'Brien traced medical records which show that two months after receiving the war wound, an army doctor pronounced Mussolini's wounds to be in excellent condition. Yet, the dictator spent 4 more months in hospital. Leading to the theory that his immoral lifestyle had led to syphilis and the chronic gastric problems associated with disease.

Idi Amin

One of histories' cruelest and sadistic dictators was known to be extremely promicous. As he got older and more erratic, it was thought that it was part of mental degeneration from untreated syphilis. The Guardian newspaper obituaries reported, "It's no secret that Amin is suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis, which has caused brain damage".

Syphilis Through the Years


First reported in Europe among soldiers (and their camp followers) involved in a war between France and Naples. Which led to it being called “The French Disease”.


Penicillin successfully treated four cases of syphilis and today it remains the best treatment.


In the late 60’s Syphilis cases spiked, helping coin the phrase “if the van is rockin', syphilis is knockin.”


In 10 years Syphilis cases increased by 200% in British Columbia.

Learn more syphilis facts