Cayce Health Database
OVERVIEW OF SYPHILIS
I. Physiological Considerations
Syphilis - commonly called lues, a word derived from
Latin meaning pestilence (Lues venereal, venereal pestilence) -
is caused by the spirochete organism Treponema pallidum which enters
the human body through mucous membranes or skin abrasions, usually by
sexual contact from an infected person harboring the organism. Upon
entering an area of contact, a painless lesion called a chancre is formed.
At this point the course of the disease is in the primary stage of syphilis.
Before the lesion resolves itself, examination of the exudate of the chancre
can sometimes show the presence of T. pallidum under the darkfield
microscope. The presence of these organisms in the lesion at this
point is diagnostic of syphilis.
One must be experienced to identify treponemes, since
some spirochetes (such as T. microdentium in the mouth) can resemble
the syphilis organism quite closely.
The chancre next resolves itself completely, and the
course of the disease will progress to the secondary stage (two to ten
weeks after the chancre heals) where cutaneous involvement occurs.
A rash will appear in the ano-genital region, axillas, and the mouth.
Secondary syphilis can also occur as meningitis, chorioretinitis, or periostitis.
However, a goodly number of patients will pass through this stage without
showing any symptoms.
The secondary lesions resolve themselves and the insidious
spirochete will invade deeper into the surrounding tissue. This
is then the tertiary stage of syphilis. Here granulomatous lesions
(gummas) occur in the skin, liver, bones, and degenerative changes come
about in the central nervous system. In some cases, syphilitic cardiovascular
lesions occur causing aneurysms. Recently treponemes have been demonstrated
in the gummas, and the tissue response must be attributed to a hypersensitivity
to the organisms at this stage.
These various stages described are not absolute.
Some people have no outward symptoms in the primary or secondary state,
but these individuals may have profound involvement in the tertiary stage
or may not show any involvement at all. It is interesting, too,
that 25% of the cases of early syphilis will seemingly resolve themselves
completely. The other 25% of the cases will go into a latent stage
and remain so while the remainder will progress to full blown cases of
tertiary syphilis. The time of appearance of late syphilitic manifestations
will vary from patient to patient. In the latent stages, an arbitrary
time of two years is selected. Under two years is called early latent,
and the possibility of infection of a partner remains. After that
time, the late latent stage is entered, and infection of another is unlikely
although the possibility of tertiary syphilis appearing remains even for
Congenital syphilis can occur in the fetus since the
treponeme can cross the placental barrier after the 18th week of pregnancy.
The time of initial infection and the duration thereof during gestation
will decide if the child will be stillborn, have fulminating syphilis,
or be uninfected. If the mother has primary or secondary syphilis,
the chances are quite high that the fetus will be infected. In late
latent syphilis of the mother chances are somewhat better that the child
will be well. These children that are affected and are born alive
may have signs of congenital lues: interstitial keratitis, Hutchinson's
teeth, Charcot's joints, saddle nose, periostitis, and a variety of central
nervous system anomalies. Early congenital lesions may be shown
in the neonate under two years of age. (These lesions may resemble the
secondary stage in the adult.) After two years the secondary lesions will
resolve as well as all the manifesting congenital signs. Sometimes
the central nervous system symptoms may manifest themselves as late as
the late teens. As in regular syphilis, no definite timetable can
be given when late congenital lues will erupt as well as how it will show
There are two schools of thought concerning the origins
of syphilis. One claims that its origin was in the New World when
Columbus' men brought it to Europe from the Haitian Indians. The
men passed it on to the prostitutes, who passed it on to the local population
and the Spanish soldiers, who bore it to the religious wars that were
to plague Europe along with syphilis - which was called then the "Great
Pox." The second group maintains that the disease was always present in
a benign form until the 1490s. Some scholars believe that evidences
for late syphilis are noted in early records such as the Books of Leviticus
and Job where late syphilis symptoms are described in Job's sores that
covered him from head to foot and in the Levite's function to look for
"leprosy" signs. The disease in Renaissance times was quite virulent
until it evolved into the more mild, chronic form that it is today.
While the disease is milder and usually not fatal in the secondary form,
its fatality can result from complications of late syphilis nowadays.
The diagnosis of syphilis presently is made not only
with clinical evidences but also with treponemal and serological tests.
As mentioned before, the darkfield test is run to see the presence of
spirochetes. Also an improvement in this technique is shown by the
fluorescent darkfield test (FADF). In this test, the serum from
the lesion containing spirochetes is put on a glass slide and allowed
to dry. Then a fluorescent antibody is put on, rinsed off, and the
slide is put under an ultraviolet microscope to see if the organisms are
present. The microbes fluoresce if present. If they are not
present, no fluorescence is seen. This test is convenient for physicians
who do not have a darkfield microscope (the dried slide can be sent to
the laboratory by mail).
Of course, many cases of syphilis do not show in lesions
where the organism can be observed (especially after the lesions resolve),
so serological tests must be made. When the treponemes attack body
tissue, two reactions occur. One is the antibody response against
the treponeme itself. The other is the formation of the antibody
complex, reagin, which is formed by release from tissue debris of a hapten
that in turn joins a protein to be attacked by an antibody. The
ease and the ability to quantitate the reagin which is equivalent to the
amount of treponemal involvement make the reagin test the test of choice
for screening and to follow treatment. The effectiveness of treatment
can be noted by the drop in titer. The rise in titer of reagin increases
through primary and secondary syphilis and may drop in the latent stages,
although the titer can sometimes rise in tertiary involvement.
The easiest reagin test is the flocculation test where
lipiodial or cardiolipid antigen is added to the serum to form a visible
aggregate. If no reagin, then no reaction. The VDRL slide
test is usually done nowadays to test for reagin due to convenience and
accuracy. The fact that it is a slide test (read with a microscope)
and a fairly rapid one lends it to common use in the laboratory.
During the early days since the discovery of a practical flocculation
test in 19 1 0, many other tests were developed such as the Kahn, Kline,
VDRL, Hinton, and Mazzini. The complement fixation test developed
by Wasserman in 1906 (first practical serological test for syphilis developed)
has been improved many times since then. (Kolmer in 1922 refined the complement
fixation test to such a point that it remained a test of choice until
the advent of a practical treponemal antibody test. It was more
specific than the flocculation tests.) The principle is that complement
is drawn away by the antigen and reagin from the sheep red blood cells
and hemolysin which must have complement to complete the reaction and
lyse the blood cells. If reagin is present, there is no lysis; if
not, the lysis occurs. While a positive reagin test will be indicative
of syphilis, reagin will also be formed by the following disease processes:
- Relapsing fever
- Febrile diseases
- Lupus erythematosis
- Immunological disorders (usually of genetic disorder)
In these cases, careful screening is needed by the
physician. Reagin tests are not limited to serum alone. Some,
such as the rapid plasma reagin test (RPR), have developed quite recently
for fast screening. (This test has been automated to do reagin tests on
a mass scale.) The reaction is essentially the same as the flocculation
test with the addition of carbon to indicate flocculation. But the
problem still remains to have a specific and sensitive test for treponemial
antigen, especially in doubtful cases where the patient gives a negative
The test of preference is the treponemal immobilization
test (TPI) developed in 1949. If the person's serum is reactive,
then the live organism (in the presence of complement) is immobilized;
if not, then it will remain mobile. While in theory this test is
simple, technically it is very complex, sensitive, and expensive.
The fact that live rabbits must be used to culture the organism (it can't
be cultured in vitro) and the factors that can affect the serum to give
a false positive (such: as rubber stoppers on the serum tube which give
off toxic material into the serum) make this test impractical for routine
use. Rather it is used to be a reference to the fluorescent treponemal
antibody-absorbed test (FTA-ABS), or "FTA" for short, developed in 1964
for general use.
II. Rationale of Therapy
Treatment in the 19th and previous centuries consisted
of iodates, mercury, and bismuth. While these heavy metals were
questionable in their bacterial activity in the body, they did seem to
resolve the syphilitic lesions and provide a barrier to prevent further
involvement of the organisms. The first good antitreponemal compound
came about 1906 with Ehrlicifâ€™s salvarsan "606" arsenic compound that
could be injected into the bloodstream without undue toxicity to the patient.
While it could lower the titer, its staying power, unlike the other heavy
metals, was not long, and some persons had reactions to it. Treatment
was long, and arsenicals had to be used with other heavy metals to have
a lasting effect. In secondary or late syphilis, treatment sometimes
had to be repeated as relapses would occur.
It should be noted that while iodine was thought to
be nonantitreponemal, it did help to resolve granulomatous tissue and
was less toxic than all the metals used. Iodine was used with arsenic
therapy in central nervous system lues to avoid the allergic reaction
(Herxheimer) to arsenic. The iodates were used since 1836 for treatment
of central nervous system syphilis since the French discovered their use.
Mercury (quite toxic to the kidneys) was used since medieval times.
Bismuth was used preferentially to mercury since the 1870s. It could
produce reaction when overused. Fever therapy (induced malarial
infection-cleared up by quinine) was used with arsenic in 1918 (arsenic
does not affect the malarial parasite) since the spirochete is sensitive
to temperature change. A modification of this was steam cabinet
therapy with arsenic-much to the discomfort of the patient. The
treatments (all modifications) were long, uncomfortable, repeatable, dangerous,
and sometimes painful; many patients decided that the cure was worse than
But the advent of penicillin therapy in 1943 with
improvements in early 1946 (oil instead of water base) proved to be a
godsend. Even to this day, it remains a drug of choice since the
spirochetes have not developed resistance to the drug. Unless there
is an allergic reaction to penicillin, the drug is non-toxic, spirocidal
and can be applied in one course of treament. In late syphilis,
several injections may be needed to kill the hidden, widely scattered
organisms. If the patient is allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics
are needed. The course of treatment here is longer, as these drugs
are not as effective.
As for epidemiology, sexual contact is the fomite
- not the poor maligned toilet seat, dirty washrags, or other such nonsense.
The spirochete is fragile, sensitive to temperature and drying (the spirochete
will perish in 30 to 45 seconds when removed from the body and exposed
to the hostile environment), and is sensitive to disinfectants.
The organism forms no spores and must be spread by sexual contact from
one partner to another to survive the generations. If mankind could
refrain from pre- and extramarital intercourse and only have intercourse
with uninfected or treated partners, the disease would eventually die
Accidental infection can occur if one touches an open
wound or mucous membrane to an active lesion. Reinfection can occur,
as a case of syphilis confers no immunity. What the doctor and the
health department expect from the patient is cooperation in finding contacts
to help stop the spread of disease. It is cruelty to the contact
not to be reported. In this case, the disease is spread and the
untreated person may be doomed to eventual death from late syphilis as
well as to spreading the disease further.
III. The Cayce Readings on Syphilis
Several Cayce readings on syphilis in the male were
given. In reading 862-2, the patient comes to him with a reactive
blood test. All tests made in 1935 were of a reagin nature and thus
did not confirm a case of syphilis. If you note reading 862-1, Cayce
warned the patient of toxemia if normal hepatic circulation were not restored.
With a positive reagin present, Cayce's diagnosis of an infectious force
that produced a humor is borne out; but with the negative history, an
irresolution of the toxemia had seemingly produced this biologic false
positive (BFP) as far as syphilis is concerned. In readings 862-2
and 862-3, a low-acid diet and electrical stimulation by a low-voltage
wet cell appliance are given to bring about coordination in the circulatory
forces. Serum injections are suggested in the readings but were
not considered necessary. However, in reading 862-3, it is mentioned
that the patient might well be infected with late syphilis, though the
information only hints at it and gets on with the treatment. In
862-4, the infection begins to resolve. A comment is given that
the disease is infectious but not contagious, as is usual with late lues.
Reading 862-5 is but a check reading. After this reading, 
had injections (probably arsenicals) which activated the immunological
system to reject a sac that contained shrapnel-synovitis. The treatment
prescribed by the information is unusual, but it seemed to work in this
person's case until the patient went against the information. (Surgery
was suggested in 862-6 to remove the sac.)
Case  is a sad one, of a child doomed by congenital
late syphilis. The involvement is so profound as to cause Edgar
Cayce to sign off with no absolute diagnosis of syphilis although he made
the syphilitic nature clear in 1289-2. The readings gave forgiveness
and benediction to the foster parents of the stricken child for whom he
made a prophecy of death. The lack of a question period seemed to
add finality to the first reading. But in 1289-2, hope is offered
to the parents to meet their sin of poor attitude by administration of
hot castor oil packs along with a diet to aid the child. While the
readings did not offer conventional therapy, it did offer hope in the
changes of heart and a possibility of a miracle.
Case [1854) is an accurate diagnosis of a gumma in
the lung which was mistakenly thought to be tubercular in origin.
Here apple brandy inhalations are suggested for relief. Calcidin
(calcium iodate) was taken orally which would supply iodine to resolve
the syphilitic tissue. Atomidine and electrical appliances were
used for the stimulation of the lacteal ducts to throw off the infection.
If you note the letters of follow-up, the young man had been diagnosed
as a syphilitic and had been treated with arsenic and steam cabinet therapy.
His reaction to the drug was taking its toll on him. The selection
of Calcidin seems in line with traditional therapy to resolve the lesion.
Case  is an example of paresis. Only hypnotic
sedation is prescribed for the patient. So far gone was he that
any therapy known to us or to Cayce's source of information would not
have resulted in a cure.
In readings 5067-1 and 5067-2 we find a case of a
malignant form of advanced tertiary syphilis throughout the body of the
patient. The disease was so advanced that no treatment known at
that time could have helped the person. An ultraviolet light filtered
through a green glass was to be held over the area of the spine along
with the application of a shortwave oscillator. This was probably
for the encouragement of the immunological and cell forces throughout
the body. Penicillin was a rare and expensive drug (rationed during
World War 11) and was in an aqueous state but had not proved to be reliable
to clear up lues, especially in late cases. Injections had to be
given over a long time, since an oil carrier had not yet been found (discovered
in 1946) to provide staying power for the drug. Arsenic and bismuth
were not used by the physican since it may have been too late to utilize
these drugs with the patient in such a weakened condition. Even
if the microbes were killed Off, it would not have resolved the gummas
present that were affecting the patient. We do not know if the treatment
would have worked since not all the steps were carried out as prescribed.
As is usual with severe late syphilis, the patient died.
In the cases of syphilis in the female we have an
example of an early case of lues in . Not only is the disease
diagnosed correctly, but also congenital malformation and possible death
for the fetus was predicted. (The infant did die soon after birth.) Adjustments
were given to the spine in preparation for childbirth. Internal
and external applications of iodine were given in the form of Atomidine
(taken orally and by douches). Shots given by a medical doctor previously
(no mention of drug given) had not cured the infection. The follow-up
reading, 3120-2, indicated no central nervous system lues and urged the
patient to keep up the treatment, along with a pep talk. Here a
good follow-up was done; and it indicates that the patient was still living
in 1962 with no apparent relapse of symptoms. Since the reading
took place in 1943, the time period with no evidence of a relapse is a
The patient in reading 4418-1 had pain and discomfort
with the formation of a gumma. A codeine medication was given to
ease pain and to prepare her for a following reading. Reading 4418-2
prescribes an herbal tonic, steam cabinet therapy with iodine, followed
by oil of wintergreen (stimulates the pores) and a salt massage.
This does sound like the steam cabinet treatment with iodine substituted
for arsenic. There is no follow-up on this case.
Admittedly, the information by Cayce did not always
agree with medical advice for syphilis at that time or even in our era.
However, when his advice was followed, it did work (such as in ).
The treatments went into areas neglected by present medical science because
of the advent of penicillin. Late and congenital syphilitic cases
are rarely seen today due to early diagnostic techniques with routine
screenings of people (premaritals, prenatals, and new hospital patients
have their blood drawn nowadays for reagin tests as well as possible contacts)
and eradications of treponemes by penicillin in one treatment. One
can conclude from the readings the following:
1. Therapy consisted of iodine and the iodates - these being less
toxic than arsenic and bismuth. Penicillin may not have been suggested
since there was no practical treatment by it during the psychic's lifetime.
2. Where the system was overtaxed by the spirochete, stimulation
was given to the lacteal ducts by ultraviolet light, wet cell application
with noble metals and iodine. Electrical oscillation was used for
3. Prescriptions were individual and could call for any of the
combinations of the above.
4. Psychological and spiritual counsel was given as an adjunct
to the treatment where applicable. Treatment was not limited to
the body alone.
5. Applications of other drugs (the herbal tonic) were sometimes prescribed.
6. Treatments could be applied as long as the body and the mind
were still capable of responding. Severe late syphilis lies beyond
any help (such as cases , [12891, and ).
7. When treatments were applied, remission of symptoms occurred
with no relapses.
Today's science has a long way to go to explain completely
why these treatments worked. Such explanation would call for a complete
understanding of the immunological, cellular, and organ systems.
Some of the medications that were suggested should be studied for their
effects upon the human body. The source of cellular resistance stemming
from the lymphatic system are yet to be proven. The record remains
open. As one physician said: "He who understands syphilis, understands
Bernet, C.W. Clinical Serology. Springfield, Ill., Charles
C. Thomas Co., 1968.
Brown, et. al. Syphilis and Other Venereal Diseases.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1970.
Stokes. J. Modern Clinical Syphology. Philadelphia,
W.B. Saunders Co., 1926.
Syphilis, Synopsis. U.S. Department of Health and Welfare: Washington,
D.C., U.S. Printing Office, 1967.
Jawetz, et. al. Review of Medical Microbiology. Los
Altos, California, Lange Medical Publications, 1966.
Eagle, H. The Laboratory Diagnosis of Syphilis. St. Louis,
Missouri: The C.V. Mosely Co., 1937.
[Note: The preceding overview was written by Richard M. Wright and is
excerpted from the Physician's Reference Notebook, Copyright
© 1968 by the Edgar Cayce Foundation, Virginia Beach, VA.]
Note: The above information is not intended for self-diagnosis
or self-treatment. Please consult a qualified health care professional
for assistance in applying the information contained in the Cayce Health