Medicine: Spirochete's Return

When doctors first announced (in 1943) that penicillin would remove all signs of early syphilis in eight days, many a layman concluded that penicillin was a sure syphilis cure. But syphilologists, knowing the wily ways of the spirochete, were careful to use the word "cure" only in cautious quotation marks.

Johns Hopkins' Dr. Margaret Merrell went to work and rounded up the clinical records of 15,000 patients treated for early syphilis throughout the U.S. over a two-year period. Last week she announced her findings: 20 months after getting penicillin treatment, between 25% and 30% of the patients still had positive blood tests;...

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