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April 2016

Syphilis, a Disfiguring Disease

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(4):404. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.4242

After reeling from the Black Plague in the early 15th century, the medical community was faced with another epidemic. This one likely traveled with Christopher Columbus and his crew across the seas from the Americas to Europe. There was no consensus for the name of the disease. Countries each referred to the disease as originating from a neighboring country, reflecting the political rivalries at the time. For example, the French disease, the Neapolitan disease, the Polish disease, the German disease, and the Spanish disease all referred to the same unfamiliar malady.1,2 The disease adopted its more infamous name in 1530 from Girolamo Fracastoro’s poem in which the god Apollo curses the people with a monstrous ailment called syphilis to punish a shepherd named Syphilis for worshipping a king.2