History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

On issues concerning the European syphilis epidemic of the late 15th to early 16th centuries

doi: 10.3897/hmj.5.3.32481

Vladimir D. Elkin, Tatiana G. Sedova

Syphilis is one of the most common and significant diseases among sexually transmitted infections. Despite prolonged study of the disease, a number of questions concerning its pathogenesis, particular features of its clinical progression and also its origin remain the subject of discussion to the present day. Until now, there has been no single point of view on the cause of the syphilis epidemic in Europe at the turn of the 15th to 16th centuries, and European and American theories for the origin of syphilis are backed by an approximately equal number of scientists. Supporters of each of the theories put forward reasoned arguments and historical evidence. At first glance, it may seem that these theories are mutually exclusive and that recognizing one of them leads to an automatic rejection of the other, but this is not so. The American and European theories do not contradict but complement each other. According to the authors of this article, the American theory reflects one page in the long history of the evolution of syphilis. An analysis of the facts presented by each theory’s supporters suggests that syphilis in Europe and around the world, including in America, has existed since ancient times. As a result of evolution, in accordance with different environmental conditions, the population of syphilis pathogens differed from one another in different geographic zones. In this regard, an unusual population of Treponema pallidum brought by Columbus, sailors to Europe became the cause of mass cases of severe and rapidly spreading syphilis.

Keywords syphilis, medical history, Columbus, America, Europe, the epidemic situation


From 2021

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I.M. Sechenov

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