Chris Cross – setting the record straight on Columbus Day

In previous years, we have honored explorer Christopher Columbus – on this, his day.  In previous years, we have also enjoyed the federal holiday. Not so, this year.  Today we are working.  And that may explain why this year we’re painting a slightly different picture of the famous Genoa-born son of a wool merchant.

For many years, Christopher Columbus was regarded as one of the great heroes of Western history. He was touted as the New World`s pivotal discoverer who subsequently brought civilization to its backward peoples.  Whatever hardships and cruelties were inflicted upon the natives was generally thought to be insignificant in comparison with the benefits of European science and religion. Yada, yada.  Turns out, Christopher Columbus wasn’t quite that smart.  For one, he sailed in the wrong direction, landed thinking he was in the West Indies, and started calling everyone Indians. And even his most ardent admirers acknowledge that Columbus was self-centered, ruthless, avaricious, and a racist.

During the latter part of the 20th century, a Native American awareness movement developed in the United States and elsewhere, which called Columbus’ legacy into question. To those critics, the year 1492 represented not just a major turning point in world history, but the starting gun for the destruction of native cultures. Exploration was quickly superseded by settlement and exploitation. War, slavery, disease, and death followed in their wake.

Both American and European lives were changed in what is sometimes referred to as the “Columbian Exchange.” Europeans became acquainted with corn, chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes, and various peppers and spices. These imports vastly changed the diet in the Old World. Tobacco also began to exert its impact. Life in the Americas was changed by the importation of chickens, goats, horses, oxen, cattle, donkeys, sheep, coffee, rice, bananas, sugarcane, wheat, and barley.

On a more lethal level, diseases also were apparently exchanged. The Europeans brought a host of infectious maladies unknown in the New World, the most damaging of which was smallpox. Some authorities have suggested that syphilis was contracted by Columbus’ crew members and taken back to Europe. And then there’s the teeny-weeny little detail that Columbus was not in fact the European discoverer of the New World. That feat was accomplished 500 years earlier by the Norse.

Nevertheless, we won’t beat up further on poor old Columbus. After all, he’s not here to defend himself these days.  And, just because we’re not celebrating his special day doesn’t mean we’re bitter (well, not much), nor does it mean that the voyages of Columbus don’t merit a place in history.

To all our readers who are enjoying the Columbus Day holiday – we say enjoy the day. To everyone else, we say – we’re right there with you!  Happy Monday.

What’s bugging you this Columbus Day?

If you’re travelling to New England this Columbus Day be prepared for more than the glorious fall leaves.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH)  both West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) have been isolated from mosquitoes in the region.

Although most human cases of both viruses are contracted during the summer months, the recent flooding followed by a spell of warm weather means there is still an active disease carrying mosquito population.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that mosquito bites, particularly in the fall, are anything other than a minor annoyance,” said Dr. Al DeMaria, State Epidemiologist.

However, these mosquito borne illnesses can cause fever, meningitis or encephalitis and may even be fatal. So far this year, three cases of WNV and one case of EEE have been confirmed in the region.

Mosquitoes acquire the viruses by biting an infected bird and then transmit the virus to humans, horses or other birds.  While WNV can affect people of all ages, those over the age of 50 are at the highest risk for severe disease.

To help protect you and your loved ones from illnesses caused by mosquitoes this Columbus day, SRxA’s Word on Health offers the following advice:

Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Schedule outdoor events to avoid these hours.

  • Clothing Can Help Reduce Mosquito Bites. When outdoors, wear long-sleeves, long pants and socks. Cover the arms and legs of children and don’t forget to use mosquito netting over strollers, cribs and playpens.
  • Apply Insect Repellent. Use a repellent with DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-methane 3, 8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535 according to the instructions on the product label.
Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, Word on Health wishes you a happy and safe Columbus Day.

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!