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Study: Syphilis may have spread to Europe even before Columbus

SWISS scientists have discovered that syphilis and similar diseases may have spread to Europe even before Christopher Columbus returned from America.

The most widespread theory in the scientific community is that syphilis is a New World disease brought to Europe by Columbus and his crew after his return in 1493.

But scientists at the University of Zurich have discovered pathogens of syphilis and other similar bacteria on samples of archaeological human remains, at least one of which dates back to before Columbus time.

A pattern from the 15th century

DNA samples from Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, among which the earliest is from the 15th century, also revealed pathogenic yaws, an infectious skin and bone disease that is prevalent in the tropics today.

They also found unknown bacteria from the same family, suggesting that it was a disease that developed along with syphilis and yaws, but no longer exists today.

According to the study, there are several subspecies of the bacterium Treponema pallidum, one of which causes syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that attacks blood vessels and the brain without antibiotics, and the other is contact-transmitted yaws.

Swiss scientists claim that a multitude of subspecies of Treponema pallidum have been active in Europe since the late 15th century, which the classical Columbus hypothesis cannot explain.

They hypothesize that the common ancestor of these pathogens developed at least 2,500 years ago, most likely in Europe. The origin of syphilis, a disease that affects only humans and particularly severely affected Europe from the late 15th to the 18th century, has not yet been elucidated.

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