STIs by way of the centuries – UK Well being Safety Company

Microscopic image of Neisseria gonorrhoeae diplococcal bacteria, imaged source from CDC.

In England, knowledge produced by the UKHSA exhibits that yr after yr new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections STIs stay excessive and, between 2021 and 2022, diagnoses of gonorrhoea and infectious syphilis elevated by 50% and 15% respectively.

On this weblog publish we’ll discover the rising tide of STIs throughout the eons, how historic Greeks feared the killer “scorpions and serpents” in semen, and the way goat’s milk was regarded as a healing for sexual illnesses.

The traditional world

The Greek and Roman Interval (fifth century BCE – 4th century CE):

Over 2,400 years in the past the traditional Greeks and Romans have been documenting their advanced sexual networks and their sexual well being.

Love and relationships within the time of The Minotaur and Medusa weren’t with out their risks. It’s recorded that Pasiphae, the spouse of King Minos of Crete, used a goat’s bladder as a condom because the King’s semen was mentioned to include “scorpions and serpents” that killed his mistresses.

And due to the traditional Greek doctor Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medication, we’ve got some insights into the prevalence of illnesses resembling STIs by way of his descriptions of scientific instances.

Writings from the Hippocratic corpus describe what may be acute gonorrhoea as “strangury”, which is regarded as attributable to indulgences within the pleasures of Venus.

The identify gonorrhoea is as historic as its descriptions, being coined by one other Greek physician earlier than 200 CE, Galen refers to gonorrhoea as “an undesirable discharge of semen”.

Medieval Period

The Islamic Golden Age (eighth – 14th centuries):

The Persian Rhazes (865-925 CE), a physician and director of hospitals of what would turn into Baghdad, describes genital ulcers and what’s regarded as gonorrhoea in his textual content ‘Continens’ with the therapy on the time being the gradual introduction of goat’s or breast milk to the an infection.

These early writings included the transmission of illnesses by way of sexual contact, laying the muse for future understanding from different Persian medical doctors reminiscent of Aly Abbas who would diagnose and document infections from urethral discharge, burning sensations whereas urinating and thick discoloured discharge.

European Center Ages (4th – 14th centuries): STIs within the Center Ages have been usually linked to ethical judgements. The time period “venereal illnesses” emerged within the Center English interval between 1150 and 1500, named after Venus, the goddess of affection, the time period venereal illness nods again to Hippocrates and, whereas misogynistic in origin, emphasises the connection of infections to sexual exercise.

Renaissance and Early Fashionable Interval

The Renaissance (14th – seventeenth centuries): The Renaissance promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature and artwork however can also be believed to have coincided with both the introduction or discovery of syphilis in Europe.

The origin of syphilis in Europe is extremely debated by teachers,  some argue that proof from mixed paleopathology and molecular analyses suggests the elevated motion of individuals throughout the continent, and between this and different continents inspired the unfold.

A preserved skull of a woman who had been suffering from syphilis, died in 1796., line engraving. Source: Wellcome Collection
A preserved cranium of a girl who had been affected by syphilis, died in 1796. Line engraving. Supply: Wellcome Assortment.

nineteenth Century

The Germ Idea: Advances in microscopy allowed for the identification of particular pathogens and within the nineteenth century was a turning level through which microorganisms reminiscent of micro organism, viruses, fungi and parasites have been accepted as the reason for illness, sickness and an infection.

Germ idea noticed the start of an period with a extra scientific strategy to understanding and treating infections, together with STIs.

Germ idea allowed for a greater understanding of transmission routes from individual to individual and the event of remedies and the invention of antibiotics, reminiscent of penicillin within the mid-Twentieth century, revolutionised the therapy of STIs, together with syphilis and gonorrhoea.


In 2022, gonorrhoea diagnoses have been the best they’ve been since data started in 1918, and syphilis diagnoses have been the best they’ve been since 1948.

The rise in diagnoses will partially be as a result of success of a rise in testing and detection of extra infections, however the scale of the rise in diagnoses lately strongly suggests that there’s extra transmission of STIs inside the inhabitants pushed by varied components reminiscent of lowering condom use.

UKHSA, and different public well being our bodies charged with monitoring and charting rises and falls in STIs have been doing so within the UK since 1918.


Annual syphilis diagnoses figures in the UK, 1922 - 2019


Annual number of gonorrhoea diagnoses in the UK, 1918-2019

The way forward for sexual well being

Sexually transmitted infections have been round for eons, however that doesn’t imply they’re right here to remain. Discoveries and improvements reminiscent of Pre-Publicity Prophylaxis (PrEP) have been used to dramatically cut back the chance of getting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and efficient HIV therapy now signifies that those that adhere to their treatment can not cross on the virus, generally known as Undetectable = Untransmittible (U=U).

Within the UK, the British Affiliation for Sexual Well being and HIV is working with UKHSA on new steerage to tell the prescribing of doxycycline publish publicity prophylaxis (Doxy-PEP) for the prevention of bacterial STIs reminiscent of syphilis.

And within the UK, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have lately suggested the federal government on the focused use of the 4CMenB vaccine for the prevention of gonorrhoea.

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