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April 2015

ScurvyCurse and Cure in New France

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Dermatology, McGill University Health Centre, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(4):431. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.4582

The winter of 1535 was unusually cold in Stadacona, now Quebec City. During his second Canadian expedition, Jacques Cartier, having explored the St Lawrence River, realized that it was too late for a safe return to France. Moored in the St Charles River, his ships were icebound by mid-November. Fresh food became scarce, and his crew experienced the first signs of scurvy, as Cartier wrote: “Some were becoming so weak as to be unable to stand, their legs swollen, with sinews taut and black as coal, some sprinkled with purplish droplets of blood. The disease then progressed to the thighs, hips, arms, shoulders and neck. And to all the mouth became so rotten that they were losing the flesh of their gums, then their teeth. And so quickly did said disease spread in our three ships than, by mid-February, of our 110 men, less than 10 were still healthy.”1

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