Treatment and diagnostic accuracy of neurosyphilis at Boston City Hospital's Neurological Unit, 1930-1979

Diana Patterson, Joel A. Vilensky, Wendy M. Robertson, Joseph Berger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

3 Scopus citations


The twentieth century was marked with frequent advances in the treatment and diagnosis of neurosyphilis. Once considered one of the most serious human diseases, neurosyphilis was paramount to a death sentence often preceded by agonizing pain and/or diminishing mental capacities. Since the introduction of penicillin in 1943, however, the prevalence of neurosyphilis has declined dramatically and the prognosis of the few still affected has been greatly improved. We examined patient records from Boston City Hospital's (BCH) Neurologic Unit from 1930 to 1979 to obtain primary data on treatment modalities for neurosyphilis during this period, with particular attention to the use of malarial therapy. We also evaluated these same records to determine whether the "great imitator" moniker that was applied to neurosyphilis may have in part been due to systematic errors in diagnostic criteria and false positive tests. The BCH neurologists used all available treatment compounds, including arsenicals, bismuth, iodides, malaria, and typhoid. The data also suggest that the wide diversity of symptoms attributed to neurosyphilis was probably accurate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2012


  • Arsphenamine
  • Boston City Hospital
  • Hinton test
  • Malarial therapy
  • Penicillin
  • Tertiary syphilis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Treatment and diagnostic accuracy of neurosyphilis at Boston City Hospital's Neurological Unit, 1930-1979'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this