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19th C medical practice

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  • 19th C medical practice

    Does anyone have information about the treatment of syphilis in the 1880s? I have heard that Oscar Wilde was treated with mercury but I do not know how it was administered or whether subsequent treatments would have been available when JtR was around.
    Secondly, can anyone refer me to 19th century medical texts? In particular, I want to know about how organs were preserved for use by medical students. Thanks to anyone who can help.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Barrister View Post
    Does anyone have information about the treatment of syphilis in the 1880s? I have heard that Oscar Wilde was treated with mercury but I do not know how it was administered or whether subsequent treatments would have been available when JtR was around.
    Secondly, can anyone refer me to 19th century medical texts? In particular, I want to know about how organs were preserved for use by medical students. Thanks to anyone who can help.
    Syphilis was treated with a lot of things. Just not successfully. Mercury or Mercurichrome was used as a topical antiseptic. Mercury of course having its own legions of side effects. Most kinds of topical treatments can lessen the pain of the skin lesions, but it does nothing for the underlying disease.
    The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

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    • #3
      Hello Barrister

      This paper: http://jmvh.org/article/syphilis-its...n-its-origins/ is a good starting point for research into the history of syphilis as it contains many references to other works. As Errata says, mercury was the mainstay of treatment until the advent of Salvarsan in the early 1900s. It was administered in a variety of ways. For the genital lesions mercury containing ointment was injected into the urethra with a wooden or metal syringe which had a nozzle with a single or multiple holes. Army medical kits contained such instruments until well into twentieth century. Otherwise the ointment was rubbed onto the skin or into ulcers or taken by mouth in the form of calomel (not to be confused with calamine) tablets, powder or tincture. It was also commonly inhaled as fumes. All of these treatments were, at best, only partially effective against the spirochaete that causes syphilis but highly toxic as far as the patient was concerened.

      Anatomical specimens were almost always preserved in formalin in the 19th century (and still are today) although alcohol in any form could be used as an alternative. The Lusk kidney was preserved in 'spirits of wine' which, at the time, could have meant surgical alcohol (known as rubbing alcohol in the USA) which was freely obtainable from chemists or any spirit including neat gin. Whoever perpetrated the Lusk kidney incident probably made a wise choice of preservative as formalin gives off a pungent odour that clings to the skin and can readily be detected from many feet away. Anyone messing around with stolen kidneys in their own lodgings who chose to preserve them in formalin ran the risk of detection since the smell would have pervaded the whole house.

      Hope this helps.

      Prosector

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      • #4
        It sure does help. Thanks, Prosecutor.

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