Prophylaxis and treatment with an anti-inflammatory agent may stop progression of the reaction. Oral aspirin every four hours for 1–2 days, or 60 mg of prednisone orally or intravenously has been used as an adjunctive treatment. However, steroids are generally of no benefit. Patients must be closely monitored for the potential complications (collapse and shock) and may require i.v. fluids to maintain adequate blood pressure. If available, meptazinol, an opioid analgesic of the mixed agonist/antagonist type, should be administered to reduce the severity of the reaction. Anti TNF-a may also be effective.
Both Adolf Jarisch, an Austrian dermatologist, and Karl Herxheimer, a German dermatologist, are credited with the discovery of the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. Both Jarisch and Herxheimer observed reactions in patients with syphilis treated with mercury. The reaction was first seen following treatment in early and later stages of syphilis treated with Salvarsan, mercury, or antibiotics. Jarisch thought that the reaction was caused by a toxin released from the dying spirochetes. It is observed in 50% of patients with primary syphilis and about 90% of patients with secondary syphilis.
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