Papulopustular exanthema. Hereditary Syphilis.
Baby, 4 weeks old. 5 1/2 lbs when admitted to the Foundling Asylum. Suffering from bronchitis and intestinal catarrh. Skin pale, wrinkled, thick, and covered in syphilitic eruption. Flaccid, partially degenerated epidermis. Died after 24 hours. Autopsy showed double lobular pneumonia and syphilitic osteochondritis at the epiphyses of the tibiae.
From Atlas of Syphilis and the Venereal Diseases, edited by L. Bolton Bangs, M.D., 1899.
When women who may not otherwise be able to afford treatment had advanced syphilis and got pregnant, physicians recommended that they were treated for at least the last six months of the pregnancy. Some of the first major public health initiatives having to do with venereal diseases were “mercy organizations” providing for the syphilis treatment of poor pregnant women, if they adhered to certain moral standards while being provided for. If they began treatment by the beginning of the second trimester, there was less than a 15% chance that the baby would be born syphilitic.
These days, mothers with HIV or AIDS on anti-retrovirals can get much the same benefit as the mothers with syphilis did back then: we don’t have a complete cure for the advanced disease, but we can still ensure that the majority of babies born to those infected are born without the disease themselves.