For centuries, it was observed that dermatologic diseases sometimes altered patients’ appearances, causing them to resemble animals in some way. Medicine’s great teachers took note of this phenomenon and used animal names to describe these disorders. Here are some of dermatology’s most memorable animal eponyms, presented in their historical contexts.
Among the oldest animal eponyms related to dermatology are alopecia and elephantiasis. Foxes sometimes suffer from fox mange, a mite infestation producing fur loss. The Ancient Greeks named this illness “alopekia,” derived from the Greek word “alopex” or fox. Hippocrates in his medical treatise Affections (chapter 35) and Aristotle in his book Problems (Book X: 27) use the term “alopekia” to denote human baldness, similar to today’s use of the Latin version “alopecia.” The term “elephantiasis” is more than 2000 years old and is mentioned by A. Cornelius Celsus in his work De Medicina (Book III: 25). The term is derived from the Greek word for elephant, “elephas.”
Burgdorf WHC, Hoenig LJ. Favorite Animal Names in Dermatology. JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(8):997. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.4190
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