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The move on foot to make the forbidden word "syphilis" a popular subject for dinner-table conversation probably has its redeeming features, but the degree to which certain publications have gone out of their way to "educate" the public in this matter is out of all proportion to the cooperation asked for by civic leaders. Indeed, the hue and cry has been such that even the most casual patron of local newsstands may well be under the impression that the country is undergoing a major epidemic, and that he himself is in direct danger of contamination.
Despite the appalling statistics which Surgeon General Thomas Parran has released for the country at large, venereal diseases at Harvard constitute the Hygiene Department's smallest worry. Less than five one-hundredths of one percent of the student body are annually afflicted with syphilis; and the figure for gonorrhea, more prevalent in this part of the country, is well under one percent. Contrary to an impression created this fall, the Hygiene Department has set up no special department to care for cases of this sort. They are handled in a routine way, the doctors making the diagnoses and offering the patient treatment in Stillman Infirmary, or if he prefers, entrusting him to a reputable Boston specialist. Only strict secrecy, in the tradition of medical ethics, distinguishes venereal treatment from the treatment of mumps or any other ailment.
Halfway between the unalarming situation at Harvard and the lurid dilemmas painted in magazines and newspapers lies the actual state of venereal disease in this country. Syphilis, by its hereditary as well as its contagious nature, presents a problem that must be faced, and one which the Bulwinkle Bill would go far toward solving. But in the meantime another problem, more difficult to solve, is making itself apparent. For syphilis is rapidly being outranked as the nation's major social disease by the morbid, evil-minded, and sadistic trend of the public press, which can have no good effect on the morals or intellect of the people. This is a subject that may well be carried to the dinner-table, for the trend has already gone too far.
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