Trent University research about an “astonishingly high” rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in 18th-century London is making media waves across the world with articles on American science websites, American newspapers, British science magazines, Australian and Italian media, and legendary U.K. newspapers The Times and Daily Mail.
History Professor Dr. Kevin Siena, a historian of early modern disease and contagion, worked in collaboration with Dr. Simon Szreter at the University of Cambridge to investigate sexual culture in London circa 1775, prompting an “exciting” finding that more than one-fifth of Londoners had contracted syphilis by their 35th birthday.
“My previous research on hospital care indicated that the disease was certainly prevalent in London, but we had no idea quite how widespread it was,” Professor Siena says. “Incidence this high suggests that the disease was very likely having significant impact on things like mortality, morbidity and fertility. We hope that our research will prompt scholars to pursue new questions on its wide and varied influence.”
The study, published in The Economic History Review on July 1, offers the first robust estimate of the amount of syphilis infection in London’s population and could help broaden our understanding of London’s population structure, sexual habits and wider culture at the time, as it became the world’s largest metropolis.
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