Views & Reviews Medical Classics

String quartets by Bedřich Smetana

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 18 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3499
  1. Desmond O’Neill, consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine, Dublin
  1. doneill{at}

For many of us, the ghost at the table of our early clinical education was syphilis. The great imitator, we were warned, was potentially always around the next corner. Anxiously, we sought out tabetic gait or the ravings of general paresis of the insane. Despite a recent small increase in its incidence, for most of us the encounter never happened, and serological tests for the elusive spirochaete have been dropped from routine screens for dementia and other illnesses.

But even as we move on to new challenges and imitators, curiosity remains as to the nature of that scourge of any self respecting artist of the 19th century—from …

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