A new study suggests that Christopher Columbus, the explorer who has long been accused of bringing syphilis from the New World to Europe, may have been wronged.
Researchers found treponematoses in archaeological human remains in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands before Columbus. The research results were recently published in "Contemporary Biology".
Verena Schünemann, professor of paleontology at the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, said in a university press release: “It seems that the earliest known syphilis cases in Europe cannot be attributed to Columbus.”
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease, now it can be completely or even easily cured if detected early. But in Europe in the late 15th century, the syphilis epidemic killed millions of people in the following two centuries.
The researchers also found evidence of other related bacteria in the remains. This bacterium causes the so-called yaws disease - a chronic contact infectious disease caused by Treponema pallidum, and syphilis is a disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, which still exists today in tropical and subtropical regions.
By analyzing the genetic code of bacteria, researchers found that all the precursors of modern syphilis may have evolved between the 12th and 16th centuries.
However, the diversity of the newly discovered syphilis bacterial family may indicate that the disease originated or developed in Europe, which overturned the long-standing theory that Columbus and his sailors’ four voyages brought the germs back to the European continent.
Although syphilis can be cured when it is detected early, it is still a rapidly spreading disease. The latest data from the World Health Organization show that there were 6 million new cases of syphilis worldwide in 2016.
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