Originally, we must have had similar skull and facial features as the rest of the races of the world, till syphilis crept in unnoticed into our national life centuries ago to cause these deformities in addition to the ongoing high morbidity and mortality.” This was the assertion of Dr. William Egbuna, Chief Consultant Physician/Medical Director, Egbuna Adazia Hospital, Onitsha.
Egbuna spoke with Vanguard in Onitsha on his studies and observations over the years and says that most Nigerians have congenital syphilis, the underlying cause of most of the ailments that fuel medical tourism. Excerpts:
According to Egbuna,from intensive, alert observations and study, he came to the recognition that “almost every Nigerian has congenital syphilis but occasionally, you find one in 100 who has escaped it. Syphilis must have stolen into our national life at least two centuries ago because right from the new born Nigerian baby, to the elderly that I see in my practice that has taken me from London to Liverpool, Lagos to Onitsha, most have congenital syphilis.”
“The normal transmission of syphilis is through sexual intercourse but an infected mother can transmit it to the child in the womb through the placenta so when the child is born, he already has syphilis. That is called congenital syphilis (CS). Once the syphilis germ (Treponema pallidum) gets into the body, it penetrates all the body tissues – bones, brain, meninges, spinal cord, vertebrae, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, especially the large intestine and gonads. It systematically and gradually damages these organs and that is what is killing most people in Nigeria.”
He stated that when an older child gets what is called late measles, it is not measles but the secondary rash of syphilis. At the tertiary stage, the rash (pimple) appears on the face, chest and back. “In CS, the primary stage is in the womb (the point of contact), while a few weeks or months after birth, the rashes appear (secondary stage). Then the pimples occur between the ages of 11 and 14 years. Changes also occur in the bones which are permanent and are called the stigmata of congenital syphilis.
“This discovery took me 30 years of intensive study, observations and inspiration to arrive at, yet, this condition is easily preventable and treatable in the early stages, and even in the later stages. When it is done with skill and expertise, most of the organs have regenerative power and will recover but the problem is that we don’t even recognise it.”
Speaking on the stigmata, Egbuna said physicians should look out for flat cheeks, protruding jaws, flat nose bridges, Hutchinson’s teeth (open teeth), pimples in teenagers and adults etc., as they point to CS. He said once all or some of these are present, the physician should suspect syphilis as the underlying cause of whatever the patient presents with. He said syphilitic pneumonia had been mistaken for pneumoccocal pneumonia and in older patients, it had been mistaken for lung cancer.
“Such have gone for surgery abroad only to discover it was not cancer. A child was booked for brain surgery because of a splitting headache and vomiting resembling headache from brain tumour. The neurosurgeon opened the brain and found no tumor. If only he knew about syphilis of the brain, he would have diagnosed it without surgery because the child had the stigmata,” he said, regretting that “although it is a well documented knowledge in medicine all over the world, we have missed it in Nigeria because we grew up recognising
our looks as normal.
The Nigerian look is distorted by syphilis. Apart from damaging the bones, the germ penetrates all the soft organs. It puts to shame the much impugned typhoid/malaria in children, hypertension, diabetes, high blood cholesterol etc. Today, a few weeks old baby shows ultrasound evidence of chronic hepatitis and pyelonephritis which occurred while in the womb. “Advanced countries don’t have this problem because they have long since eradicated syphilis from their national life.”
Syphilis and fibroid:
‘The syphilis germ attacks the womb that is just growing and maturing, the womb reacts by producing fibroid tissues (muscle tissues). By the age of 25 – 30 years, a third of the women that have not started having children have small to moderate fibroids. I have not seen any woman with fibroids who does not have the stigmata of CS. When the germ attacks the ovaries, it forms cysts and you have polycystic disease of the ovary leading to ovary failure and infertility. Syphilis is the highest cause of infertility in both males and females in Nigeria.”
BCG and Syphilis:
Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is a vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) prepared from a strain of the attenuated live TB germ. “The commonly sick Nigerian child from infancy to about 9 or 10 years has catarrh, dry cough, recurrent fever, headaches, abdominal pains, chest pain and dyspnoea. On examination, virtually all of them have marked supraclavicular, axilliary and cervical lymph nodes, more marked on the side of the BCG vaccination. This clinical picture including abnormal chest X-ray responds to Anti-TB regime.
However, one question remains unanswered, especially for the infants, that is, the source of the tuberculosis infection. “Remember these children are given BCG inoculation at birth or soon after. Again, we recognise that in Nigeria, BCG has failed to protect from TB. Also we have facts that most of our children have congenital syphilis which undermines the immune state, just like HIV. A careful assessment of these facts and the clinical picture will strongly suggest that what we are dealing with in the Nigerian child is BCG infection in association with CS.
“In paediatric practice, we treat both the BCG infection and syphilis with excellent result! Note that when a Nigerian adult acquires HIV infection subsequently, these same lymph nodes, especially the supraclavicular ones, are the first to reappear!” he said, advising that BCG should be stopped entirely, while the issue of syphilis endemicity in Nigeria should be investigated and resolved by the authorities.