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December 7, 1940

The Emperor's Itch: The Legend Concerning Napoleon's Affliction with Scabies

JAMA. 1940;115(23):2020. doi:10.1001/jama.1940.02810490076027

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Abstract

It is said that 40,000 books have been written on the life of Napoleon, but the present interesting monograph by Friedman is the first which discusses an annoying disease of the skin from which he suffered for many years. This phase of Napoleon's life has either been overlooked or been misunderstood by previous biographers.

The story that the disease of the skin from which Napoleon suffered was scabies is shown by the author to be a myth. There are no authentic records to prove that he ever had this disease. In view of the emperor's cleanly habits and the long duration of the disorder and because of the numerous sulfur baths which he took, it seems impossible that the disease could have been scabies. Furthermore, the Empress Josephine is not known to have suffered from scabies, although Napoleon's second wife, Marie Louise, is said to have been affected. However, it

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