Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria, Treponema palladium, and was first described during the Siege of Naples in 1495. It has three stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary. It’s during the tertiary stage, or the final stage, that bones are damaged and take on a swollen, “moth-eaten” appearance. Tertiary syphilitic lesions begin to appear 2 to 10 years after infection, and attack the cranium and tibia causing disintegration or the thickened formation of new bone.
In the 1940’s, cases of syphilis started decreasing rapidly after the widespread availability of penicillin, an inexpensive antibiotic.
- White, Tim. The Human Bone Manual Burlington: Academic Press, 1995. Print
- JL Turk MD. “Syphilitic caries of the skull – the changing face of medicine.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Volume 88 (1995): 146. Online