To the Editor:
This letter refers to Dr. Shulman’s editorial in the November 2010 issue [Pediatr Ann. 2009;39(11):681–682]. I am a pediatrician but also have dedicated my life to collecting antique medical/science books and to deep inquiries into medical history (especially in microbiology/infectious diseases).
The credit for the discovery of Treponema pallidum goes to two investigators who worked together and published this landmark discovery in a couple of different German journals. They are F. Schaudinn and E. Hoffmann. Seven years later, Noguchi was credited with the following: demonstrating the presence of T. pallidum in sections of spinal cord/brain of patients with tabes dorsalis and so determined that tabes was due to late syphilis infection. His stained sections of the CNS showing the T. pallidum are beautiful even when looked at today (100 years later).
T. pallidum was an extremely elusive bacterium, and its discovery was regarded by some as seminal. The fact that it was discovered quite late (in the relative chronological scheme of discovery of bacteria/1905) speaks loud and clearer about its microscopic elusiveness and importance as a finding.
Juan Weiss, MD
In the editorial in the November 2010 issue of Pediatric Annals, I illustrated my editorial in part with a beautiful 2008 souvenir sheet from Japan that honored Dr. Hideyo Noguchi and briefly summarized his brilliant microbiology career. I wrote, “In 1912–1913, he discovered that Treponema pallidum was the causative agent of syphilis, recovering it from the brain of a patient with the progressive paralysis/paresis of syphilis.”
I am indebted to Dr. Weiss for his more accurate correction that appropriately credits Fritz Schaudinn (a protozoologist) and Erich Hoffman (dermatologist) with discovering the spiral bacterium T. pallidum in exudates from syphilitic chancres in 1905 and clarifying Noguchi’s 1912 highly significant contribution.
Stanford T. Shulman, MD