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Malarial fever as neurosyphilis treatment: A historical case study in medical ethics

April 07, 2015

From the 1920s until the 1950s, prior to the introduction of penicillin, malaria-induced fevers were used as a treatment for neurosyphilis—the spiking fevers associated with malaria killed the bacteria that caused the syphilitic infection.

A new essay appearing online ahead of print in the Hastings Center Report explores this chapter in the history of U.S. medicine during which physicians also inoculated nonsyphilitic patients with malaria, using them as reservoirs to facilitate the treatment of others.

The essay's author, Matthew Gambino, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, suggests that examining the clinical, ethical, and racial implications of this case study in historical context can provide valuable lessons for medical decision-making today.

Reference: Gambino, M. (2015), Fevered Decisions: Race, Ethics, and Clinical Vulnerability in the Malarial Treatment of Neurosyphilis, 1922-1953. Hastings Center Report. doi: 10.1002/hast.451

Submitted by Shane Seger on April 07, 2015