Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Fever Box

Replace that handle with a head hole, and you've got yourself a Fever Box!
So, I just learned that the treatment for syphilis wasn't always as nice as it is today. These days, we just give penicillin. Poke, ouch, done. If the patient is allergic to that, then we give erythromycin or doxycycline, which work just as well. The thing is, penicillin wasn't discovered by Fleming until 1928, and the other drugs are even newer than that. Before 1928, doctors used a "fever box."

What's a fever box? It's a completely enclosed box with a hole cut in the end for your head. You are placed in the box, and then the box is placed outside in the toasty hot sun. You see, treponema pallidum, the spirochete (a corkscrew-shaped bacterium responsible for syphilis) is really sensitive to deviations from the human body temperature. Unfortunately, it's so good at evading the immune system that our bodies don't react with a fever the way they do when we get infected by most other bacteria. If we did, that fever would kill off Treponema pallidum. So, the good docs of the early 1900s would stick you in a fever box to force your body temperature up, giving you a pseudo-fever that would (hopefully) kill off the bacterial infection. Either that, or dehydrate and kill you first... Just kidding - no clue if that ever happened, but I suppose it's possible.

Regardless, sometimes it just hits me how far medicine has come in less than a century. This is perhaps not even the best example, but it's not a bad one. So to all the syphilis patients out there - be glad for Alexander Fleming and penicillin. Otherwise, you + syphilis = no fun in the fever box.

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