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The “Scourge of the Renaissance”. A Short Review About Treponema pallidum infection

[ Vol. 20 , Issue. 3 ]


Luigi Santacroce*, Lucrezia Bottalico*, Skender Topi, Francesca Castellaneta and Ioannis A. Charitos   Pages 335 - 343 ( 9 )


Background: There is not a time in the history when epidemics did not loom large: infectious diseases have always had civilisation and evolution-altering consequences. Throughout history, there have been a number of pandemics: cholera, bubonic plague, influenza, smallpox are some of the most brutal killers in human history. Historical accounts of pandemics clearly demonstrate that war, unhygienic conditions, social and health inequality create conditions for the transmission of infectious diseases, and existing health disparities can contribute to unequal morbidity and mortality. The Renaissance was a period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages, but it was also the time when new infectious disease appeared, such as Syphilis. The epidemic spread of Syphilis began between the late 15th century and early 16th century due to the increased migration of peoples across Europe. The rapid spread of venereal syphilis throughout Europe suggests the introduction of a disease into a population that had not previously been exposed. Syphilis is a type of treponematosis, which includes syphilis, bejel, yaws, and pinta, but, while syphilis is venereal disease, the others are nonvenereal. Syphilis was, at the beginning, a disease of great severity due to its novelty, as the population had no time to gain any immunity against this venereal disease.

Methods: The purpose of this study is to investigate the origin of syphilis and the evolution of the treatments from the empiric means to the discovery of penicillin, but also to understand how this venereal disease has largely influenced human lifestyle and evolution.

Conclusion: The first of the three hypotheses about its origins is the Columbian hypothesis, which states that Columbus's crew acquired syphilis from Native Americans and carried it back to Europe in 1493 A. D. On the contrary, the second hypothesis (pre-Columbian) asserts that syphilis was present in Europe long before Columbus's voyage and was transferred to the New World by Columbus's men. The Unitarian theory argues that syphilis, bejel, yaws, and pinta are not separate diseases but they represent syndromes caused by slightly different strains of one organism. Nowadays, Syphilis’ origin is still uncertain and remains controversial. However, the large impact on the social behavior and international public health is an important reason to investigate about its origins and how to prevent the transmission.


Syphilis, Treponema pallidum, history of medicine, palaeopathology, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), infectious diseases, epidemics, pandemics, renaissance medicine and therapy.


Ionian Department, University of Bari “A. Moro”, Bari, Ionian Department, Polypheno srl Academic Spin Off, “Aldo Moro” University of Bari, Bari, Ionian Department, University of Bari “A. Moro”, Bari, Department of Internal Medicine and Oncology, School of Medicine, “Aldo Moro” University of Bari, Bari, Department of Emergency/Urgent, National Poison Center, Riuniti University Hospital (OO.RR.) of Foggia, Foggia

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