Gonorrhea Hunter

Sexually transmitted diseases have had a long history of research and experimentation. These days HIV and Hepatitis B are in focus being the most common & feared sexually transmitted diseases. But before these two diseases came into focus, Gonorrhea and Syphilis were two STD’s which were studied extensively because of their prevalence at the time and there was considerable debate as to whether these two diseases were the same or really different.

John Hunter was born in 1728 in Scotland. Though his birth date is unclear, it is believed that he insisted on celebrating his birthday on February 14th.   He was considered to be a very difficult man to deal with.  He had great difficulty in attaining formal education, more because of his stubborn nature and impatience to sit in a classroom.  He wanted to be practical. So he spent most of his time in the countryside exploring birds and animals and his curiosity even led him to dissect them. He believed in the concept of “total understanding of life”.

At the age of 20, he joined his brother William who had his own Anatomy school. William was 10 years senior to John. Here John Hunter learnt the nuances of dissecting human corpses from his brother. He was given the task of obtaining the cadavers so that the students could dissect them. According to Jameslindlibrary.org , he along with the students would go on a hunt to find these corpses. Later on, he even made friends with body snatchers to find these corpses.

After working for more than a decade with his brother and dissecting more than 2000 corpses he decided to join the army as a surgeon. It was a natural progression from dissecting cadavers to living beings. After working with wounded soldiers for a few years he turned his attention to dentistry where he transplanted teeth from the beggars to rich paying clients. But soon this practice was stopped.

He spent his entire life experimenting. One of his experiments involved tying a thread around a stag’s carotid artery to demonstrate the concept of collateral circulation. Initially the stag’s tied off antler became cold and stopped growing. After two weeks it regained its warmth and started growing again and thereby proving Hunter’s concept of collateral circulation.

He then started performing post mortems. He even convinced his friends to give prior consent so that he could do their post mortems after their deaths. He paid criminals huge amount of money so that he could conduct dangerous and unusual experiments on them. He even masterminded the theft of the body of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant. Charles Byrne was over eight feet tall as he suffered from acromegaly, a hormonal disease which people were not aware of in the 1780’s. That drew him a lot of attention obviously. He died at a very young age of 22. Charles knew that John Hunter wanted to dissect his body and he didn’t want it, since at the time dissection of bodies was done only on criminals. So, before his death he made arrangements with his friends, that his body would be put in a lead coffin and buried in deep sea. But John Hunter managed to the snatch the body while it was on the way to the sea. He dissected it and displayed the skeleton in his museum after 4 years. He dissected every animal possible and collected their body parts for his museum. Ultimately, he became a famous surgeon and ended up operating on many high profile patients.

During these various changes in interests, there was one thing that kept him fascinated. He encountered a number of patients suffering from venereal diseases. Back then syphilis and gonorrhea were much more feared and prevalent diseases than AIDS. However, while many doctors believed that both these diseases were different, John Hunter was of the opinion that the symptoms exhibited were the manifestations of the same disease. So, Hunter who had a patient suffering from Gonorrhea, took the patients pus and injected into his penis. He wanted to prove to the world that he would develop the symptoms of both syphilis and Gonorrhea and thereby once and for all prove that both were indeed the same disease. He did end up getting both symptoms. Unfortunately for Hunter, he didn’t know that his patient was suffering from both syphilis and gonorrhea. Therefore his experiment turned out to be flawed!

Hunter died of heart attack in the board room of St George’s hospital, London 1793. The next day his students dissected his body in his dissecting room because he had given consent for the same before his death.

There is a Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons England where half of the human and animal specimens that Hunter dissected still survive.


Facts About Gonorrhea

  • This disease is sometimes referred to as “The Clap”
  • It is produced by the bacteria Neisseria Gonorrhoeae
  • It tends to affect the young i.e. 15 to 29 years of age more than the old. Most likely because they tend to be sexually more active with multiple partners.
  • The only way to catch gonorrhea is if infected body fluids come in contact with mucus membrane. It does not spread by sharing towels or sitting on a public toilet
  • It can affect both men and women
  • Symptoms include pain in the genitals with yellowish or greenish discharge, itching and frequent urination.
  • Oral sex can cause this infection in the throat.
  • Babies can also be infected during childbirth if the mother is infected and it usually affects their eyes.
  • The best means of prevention is by sex with single partners, condom usage and obviously abstinence.


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