Columbus discovered syphillis in new world

Daily Mail:

In 1493 Christopher Columbus made it back to Spain after his historic first voyage.

With him he brought news of lands across the Atlantic, a handful of native prisoners... and syphilis.

Columbus and his crew are thought to have introduced the potentially fatal sexually transmitted disease from the Americas to Europe.

In an era hundreds of years before the discovery of antibiotics, syphilis quickly spread and was soon the scourge of every major city.

The findings come from a study by Dr Kristin Harper of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who looked at the genetic make up of 26 strains of bacteria in the syphilis family.

By tracing their evolution, she was able to pinpoint the origin of the disease in South America around the time of Columbus's first mission.

Syphilis causes serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes and bones and if untreated can be fatal. It is carried by the bacterium Treponema palladium.

Ever since the first recorded case in Europe took place in 1495 - three years after Columbus's first voyage to the New World - doctors have argued over its origins.


But across the Atlantic, diseases carried from Europe were causing far greater havoc. Millions of Native Americans died of measles, flu and smallpox exported from Europe.

It is what you call a real clash of civilizations. Biological warfare was being waged by both sides and neither realized it.

The story suggest that Columbus's crew contracted the disease through rape of women in the native population. I am skeptical. The Europeans would have been out numbered by a wide margin and even if the natives thought they were God like creatures that kind of conduct would not have been considered such.

It should also be noted that the area where Columbus explored was occupied by the Carib tribe which was a warlike and ferocious tribe who celebrated their victories by eating the killed enemy. The Carib practiced genocide and wiped out most of the previous occupants of the islands, the Arawak. They did however take the Arawak women as slaves. Wikipedia has this entry from Columbus's log:

"They brought us balls of cotton thread and parrots and darts and other little things which it would be tedious to list, and exchanged everything for whatever we offered them...I kept my eyes open and tried to find out if there was any gold, and I saw that some of them had a little piece hanging from a hole in their nose. I gathered from their signs that if one goes south, or around the south side of the island, there is a king with great jars full of it, enormous amounts. I tried to persuade them to go there, but I saw that the idea was not to their liking."
That entry does not suggest a violent engagement, or intent. Perhaps one of the unmentioned items of barter was sex. That would certainly be rather tedious to list as well as embarrassing.


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