Diagnosis Down Below

In the new book Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough, Dr. John J. Ross recounts the medical lives of our favorite writers. On the Bard’s possible syphillis:

The only medical fact known about Shakespeare with certainty is that his final signatures show a marked tremor. … According to contemporary gossip, Shakespeare was not only notoriously promiscuous, but was also part of a love triangle in which all three parties contracted venereal disease. The standard Elizabethan treatment for syphilis was mercury; as the saying goes, “a night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.” Mercury’s more alarming adverse effects include drooling, gum disease, personality changes, and tremor. (In the eighteenth century, mercury was used in the manufacture of felt hats, leading to the expressions “hatter’s shakes” and “mad as a hatter”).

Meanwhile, Maggie Koerth-Baker discovers that Anne of Green Gables had herpes. But then again, you probably do too:

Unlike herpes simplex type 2 — the virus you probably think of when you think “herpes” — HSV-1 isn’t necessarily a sexually transmitted disease. Most people are infected when they’re still little kids. And they’re infected by really common behaviors that nobody wants to stop anytime soon — namely, the practice of adults kissing little kids because they’re just so darn kissable. (There are several scenes in Anne of Ingleside where Anne probably passes HSV-1 on to her own offspring.)

But she warns that oral herpes isn’t confined to the mouth:

Truth is, HSV-1 can pass from one host to another via any mucus membrane, and that includes the ones on your genitals. If somebody with oral herpes goes down on you, there’s a possibility that they could give you oral herpes in a place that is most definitely not your mouth. And cases of this happening are one the rise.