by M. P. Vora

The Illustrated Weekly of India

Vol. IXXXIV, No. 12 of Sunday March 24, 1963. Page No. 75


THE TERM, V.D., stands for venereal disease or diseases. They are very dangerous and crippling. There are several venereal diseases, but the most common of them are syphilis and gonorrhoea. They usually spread by intimate contact, almost always sexual. Both are killers or destroyer of humanity.


There are certain reasons for their increased incidence among teen-agers. Persons with little knowledge of the problem can have V.D. without knowing or suspecting it. The first signs of syphilis are often so slight as to go unnoticed, or, as is often the case, to be mistaken for some other ailment. So also, gonorrhoea may be difficult to recognise, as there are a number of maladies resembling it.


V.D. usually results from conduct outside the accepted moral code. People who suspect they may be infected fear discovery and so delay seeing a qualified doctor. When the early signs disappear- as they always do in both syphilis and gonorrhoea- there is, naturally, a sense of relief that it was not anything serious after all. But the germs still continue to multiply and do their deadly work, quietly, in the body.


Many individuals who suspect they are infected do not seek treatment simply because they “feel all right”. Hence infected persons can pass on the disease to others without knowing that they are doing so. When they begin to “feel bad”, it is often too late to repair the damage done.


Finally, there are those who are completely ignorant of venereal diseases and how they spread. Unfortunately, a high percentage of this uninformed group is composed of teen-agers and other young people. They are lacking in even elementary knowledge of sex and the nature of V.D. As a result, venereal diseases are spreading fast among them. It is, therefore, imperative that they be educated with regard to these diseases. It is important to know and remember the following plain facts about the two most common of venereal diseases, syphilis and gonorrhoea.


What is syphilis?

Syphilis is an infectious disease, generalized at first, subsequently localized and dispersed. It is unique in the benign character of the early illness, remarkably slow but steady in progression, extending over years and punctuated by alternate periods of activity and quiescence. Its causative organism is cork-screw-shape germ called Treponema, or spirocheta pallidum. The germ cannot withstand drying. It requires a liquid vehicle for its transmission from host to host. Syphilis can cause skin rash, heart-disease, nervous disease, paralysis, insanity, blindness, deafness, bone and joint pains, and even premature death.


How does syphilis spread?

Syphilis is contagious or catching. It spreads from person to person by sexual relations or by other close physical contacts- such as kissing- which provide the necessary conditions for the transmission. Indirect transmission of the infection is possible but not very common. It is not spread from toilet seats, towels or door-knobs.


What are the early signs and stages of syphilis?

The first sign is usually an ulcer, which appears about 10 to 40 days following the entry of germs into the body (inoculation). It appears at the point the germs enter the body, usually on the skin or mucous membrane nearabout the sex organ, and lasts for about a month, if untreated. Normally, it does not pain or itch. It is called chancre. At the beginning, it may look like a pimple, blister or crack. There is nothing fundamentally characteristic about the appearance of a chancre. The diagnosis can only be established by the demonstration of actual living germs in the lesion. At times, the ulcer is very small or hidden, so that it is not noticed. This is often true in girls.


In an appreciable number of infected persons, the initial lesion, or the chancre, may not progress sufficiently to enable its recognition. This first sore of syphilis will disappear even without treatment, or with some applications, but the germs do not go away. A unique feature of early syphilitic infection is the fact that it usually produces virtually no symptoms of systemic disease despite the presence of spirochetemia (presence of generalized infection). This is called the primary stage of syphilis.


The secondary stage of syphilis follows in four to six weeks after the first sore. There might be skin rash, sore throat, pains in bones and joints, enlargement of lymph nodes, and sores in the mouth. At times, these signs and symptoms may be so slight and trivial as to go unnoticed. They may go away even without treatment, but the germs of syphilis still remain to multiply in the body. The disease is highly infectious in this stage. At this time, serologic test for syphilis is invariably positive.


In between the secondary and the tertiary stage, there is a period called “the latent stage”. In this, the person has the disease but without any of its outward signs. He may feel fine and may think himself healthy; but hidden germs may attack the vital organs of the body at any time and cause great suffering at a later time. In the tertiary stage, the heart, great blood-vessels and the nervous system bear the brunt of the infection.


Is syphilis hereditary?

Syphilis is not hereditary, but it is often passed from an infected mother to the baby before it is born. This is called congenital syphilis. If the mother is given proper and adequate treatment during early pregnancy, the baby can be born without syphilis. But, if the mother is not so treated, the baby may be born prematurely (miscarriage), dead (still birth), or with syphilis, and may be blind, deaf, mentally retarded and have skin eruptions. At times, it may appear sound and healthy at birth, but may later develop the crippling signs of syphilis.


What is the result if syphilis is not treated?

When the warning signs go away- as they always do even without treatment, or after some inadequate or irregular treatment-the germs in the body is still active and continue to multiply and can do great damage. It may take two to twenty years for the damage to show up. When it does, it may be in the form of insanity, heart-disease or nervous disease, paralysis or even premature death.


Can syphilis be cured?

Yes. If it is treated early enough, syphilis can be cured completely by modern treatment before any permanent damage is done to the body. It is imperative that syphilis is diagnosed and treated in its very early stage. This also helps prevent its spreading. But most of the patients try to heal the ulcer and neglect the disease in the blood. People who have had syphilis cured can catch it again if they expose themselves to the risk of infection.


Can you yourself or a quack treat syphilis?

No, it simply will not work. Only a qualified venereologist can make the necessary examination to find out if you have venereal infection, and only he can give you proper and adequate treatment. Syphilis does not go away by itself, although the early signs always do.


What is gonorrhoea?

It is a dangerous disease of the urogenital tract caused by the germ, gonococcus. It may cause chronic illness, arthritis, body aches, inflammation of sex glands and sterility.


How is gonorrhoea spread?

It is spread from person to person by sexual relations, as syphilis is. (It is caught from someone who has the disease.) It is certainly not a strain. Nor is it hereditary. The germs of gonorrhoea die quickly outside the human body, and, in practice, chances of getting the infection from toilet articles are very slight.


What are the signs of gonorrhoea?

A few days after the infection, there is usually burning and smarting in the urinary pipe while passing urine. At about the same time, a purulent discharge develops and begins to dribble from the external urinary meatus. Often, boys will notice these signs and symptoms in three to seven days from the day of exposure, but girls may not. Very often, gonorrhoea begins without these symptoms in women. Diagnosis is made by demonstration of gonococci in stained smears and by culture.


What happens if gonorrhoea is not treated?

It may damage the important sex glands and make it impossible for a person to become a father or a mother, as the case may be. It can cause constriction of the urinary passage (stricture of the urethra), difficulty in urination, attacks of retention of urine, painful arthritis, back-ache, inflammation of the eyes, and chronic ill health. It is frequently the cause of blindness in the new- born baby. It may cause such serious complications in women as acute abdomen. If the germs get into the eyes, blindness results.


Can gonorrhoea be cured?

Yes. The modern treatment is quite effective in producing a complete and speedy cure. But the treatment must be given quite early if the disease is to be stopped from doing damage to the body. Once the disease becomes chronic, drugs alone cannot repair the damage done to the vital organs of the body.


Can you yourself or a quack treat gonorrhoea?

No, certainly not. Only a qualified venereologist can decide whether or not you have gonorrhoea, and only he can know what treatment is needed, and when you are completely cured of the disease. Relief of the symptom does not mean cure.


What is the result of inadequate or irregular treatment in V.D.?

Proper regular and adequate treatment of V.D. in the early stages is essential for cure. Inadequate or irregular treatment often makes the vital organs of the body more susceptible to attacks of the disease. Once the infection becomes old, it is difficult to cure completely.


Are tests of cure essential in V.D. when it is treated?

Yes. When the treatment is over, subsequent check-ups and proper tests of cure, extending over a certain period, are absolutely essential in venereal diseases before a clean bill of health is given.


Are venereal diseases preventable?

Yes, to a great extent. They are almost, if not completely, preventable. To be effective, precautions must be taken immediately before and after the contact. This is called prophylaxis. At times, the prophylaxis may prevent the early appearance of the signs and symptoms of a disease, but not the infection. So those who use it should resort afterwards to periodic check-ups and blood tests.


Remember: Venereal diseasesmust be diagnosed and treatedin the very early stages. Their treatment without scientific diagnosis is unpardonable in the modern age. Attempts to get them treated by unqualified persons or on the advice of friends are very dangerous. They only help to add difficulties in the work of venereologists. If you find anything wrong with your system after an exposure to the risk of infection, contact the nearest venereologist immediately, and you will have complete cure assured in the earliest possible time. Special clinics at St. George’s Hospital, Cama and Albless Hospital, and J.J. Hospital, all in Bombay, will give you advice, diagnostic aid and treatment without any obligation on your part.


Signs of early syphilis: An ulcer at the site of infection. It may occur any time from 10 to 90 days after the exposure to infection. If you fail to see a doctor, you may have lymph nodes in the groin enlarged, skin rash, pains in bones and joints, hoarse voice and sores in the mouth. Go to venereologist at once. Delay is dangerous.


Early signs of gonorrhoea: smarting and burning in the urinary pipe in a few days after the infection. A purulent discharge begins to dribble from the pipe. These signs and symptoms are often experienced by boys but not by girls. When you see or feel anything unusual following the exposure, consult a venereologist at once.