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January 10, 1977

Columbus' Trip and Syphilis

JAMA. 1977;237(2):117. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270290017003

To the Editor.—  In "Medical Notes on Columbus' First Trip to America" (236:1598, 1976), the author opines that Columbus' diary may contain a reference to the fact that some of his crew already had syphilis, therefore repudiating the theory that it was introduced to Europe by Columbus, as the author claims most people presently believe. There have been countless ancient and medieval references to what was called "alopecia" or "leprosy" but which we would today term syphilis. Bartholomaeus wrote in the 13th century that "leprosy commeth of fleshlyk lyking by a woman soone after that a leprous man hath laye her." He continues to say that "leprosy" is congenital, "It commeth of father and mother; and so this contagion passeth into the childe as it were by the law of heritage."1 In the 13th century, Lanfrank (in his Science of Cirurgie) states that men contract, after coitus with a