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January 10, 1977

Columbus' Trip and Syphilis

Author Affiliations

Conway, Mass

JAMA. 1977;237(2):117-118. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270290017004

To the Editor.—  Dr Lopez repeats the old tale that "although the place of origin is still argued, it is accepted by most that [syphilis] came from America and that it was taken to Europe by Columbus's sailors on their return from the first trip." In support, he cites three references, and in the next sentence, by implication, a fourth (De las Casas). Of the first three, Sudhoff1 in fact provides important information to the contrary. Sudhoff, Hudson,2,3 Holcomb,4 and most recently Hackett,5 have painstakingly reviewed this question and exculpated the American aborigines, with only ambiguous data on pre-Columbian bones in Lopez's favor, and a mass of evidence to the contrary, circumstantial and inconclusive to be sure, but such that no fair jury could convict.Of course, irrefutable evidence on the point at issue may never be available; even some as yet undiscovered paleoimmunological method might