Columbus Day Musings

Those of us lucky enough to have vacation to mark Columbus Day may have time to think about the explorer who is widely credited with having discovered and colonized the Americas.  Here at Word on Health, we’ve been wondering which of the many nasty medieval diseases did Christopher Columbus suffer from?

According to most historians it wasn’t the usual suspects: plague, dysentery, typhoid or ergotism.

Until recently, most attributed his death, at the age of 55 to complications of gout.  However, new evidence from Dr. Antonio Rodriguez Cuartero, a professor at the University of Granada, paints a different picture.  After studying Columbus’ family history, personal diaries and the letters penned by Columbus’ son, the professor contends that all signs point to Reiter’s syndrome.

All sources seem to agree that during his later years, Columbus became increasingly incapacitated by pain in his joints, painful urination and bleeding from his eye.  One cannot blame the leech-applying physicians of his day, for attributing these symptoms to gout.  More than 500 years later we still don’t know much about Reiter’s syndrome, or “reactive arthritis’ as it is also known.

Some people think that it involves the immune system, which is “reacting” to the presence of bacterial infections in the genital, urinary or gastrointestinal systems, but the exact cause remains unknown.

Complications of Reiter’s include aortic insufficiency, left-sided heart failure, pulmonary edema and endocarditis, which may give further credibility to Cuartero’s theory that Columbus died of a heart attack.

Whatever the reason, we say Rest in Peace Christopher & Happy Columbus Day to all our readers!

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