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Professor Quippy: Blame the Pox on Columbus and Company

Professor QuippyChristopher Columbus has another credit to add to his impressive CV.

Not only did he help spread smallpox to natives in the New World, new genetic research has proved he was guilty of spreading syphilis in Europe.

Well, not just Columbus. From all accounts he wasn’t as randy as some of his Spanish sailors. At any rate, the first outbreak in Europe appeared in France troops besieging Naples in 1494. (The French king had hired a large number of poxy Spanish mercenaries to help with this war.)

Long suspected, the jury is now in thanks to a study by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. According to the New Scientist:

There has been a long-running row over from where the dreaded disease came. But new genetic data from deep in the jungles of Guyana suggests that while other forms of this bacterium have plagued humans since early in our evolution, it emerged as venereal syphilis only when carried back to Europe by Columbus and his crew.

So there you have it. Christopher Columbus, discovered the Americas, killed most of its aboriginal population with smallpox, and imported one of the most colorful and infectiously interesting venereal diseases to Europe.*

New Scientist story here | Wikipedia entry on syphilis history here | More pathogenic humor here

* Syphilis has been called:

  • the “French disease” in Italy and Germany
  • the “Italian disease” in France
  • the “Spanish disease” in Holland
  • the “Polish disease” in Russia
  • the “Christian disease” or “Frank disease” (frengi) by the Turks
  • the “British disease” in Tahiti
  • Grandgore and “The Black Lion” in Scotland
  • lues
  • “Cupid’s disease”
  • and it’s most lovable name, simply: The Pox.