Lesions. Ulcers. Rashes that spread on the skin. Fevers. Debilitating pain… and finally, at the end, even madness. These are only some of the effects of infectious syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease caused by a tiny cork-screw shaped bacterium, often viewed as a thing of the past. However, this disease is still very much present. In fact, it is experiencing a puzzling re-emergence in the developed world, leading doctors and researchers to scratch their heads in search for answers to its infection dynamics.
Syphilis is shrouded in mystery, from its origins to its current spread. Where does it come from? Did Columbus have syphilis? Has the disease changed in the last centuries? How similar or different are the syphilis strains in different parts of the world? How widespread is antibiotic resistance and will this be a problem? Study of the bacterium remains a challenge, particularly for geneticists, but new technologies are bringing advances to the field. Whichever way, it is time to start removing the drapes that have kept this disease hidden from public view, and come face to face with an important health concern today.
Natasha Arora is an anthropologist fascinated by what genetics can tell us about human evolution and the pathogens that affect us.
She moved from Madrid to London to Berlin to complete her studies and work, before landing in Zurich to immerse herself in a project on orangutan genetics. Following her Ph.D in this area, she went on to do a two year project examining the re-emergence of syphilis in Switzerland.
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