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December 1989

Syphilis: From 1495 Naples to 1989 AIDS

Author Affiliations

8100 Bay Pkwy Brooklyn, NY 11214

Arch Dermatol. 1989;125(12):1698-1700. doi:10.1001/archderm.1989.01670240098023

Although most likely found in Europe in low incidence for centuries, the first major pandemic of syphilis occurred in Europe in 1495, affecting the army of Charles VII of France as he was besieging Naples.1 In his army were Spanish mercenaries, who, according to the Columbian theory of the origin of syphilis, had become infected as a result of the return to Seville and, subsequently, to Barcelona in 1490 of several members of Columbus' crew, who had been infected with syphilis acquired from New World natives and had brought the disease into Spain.2 As Charles' army returned north after conquering Naples, syphilis began to spread all over the Italian peninsula, soon becoming known as the morbo gallico or the French disease.3 By 1497, the disease had spread all over Europe, appearing even in Scotland. In France, the disease was called le mal de Naples and in England,

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