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On the Origins of Syphilis

Did Christopher Columbus and his men introduce syphilis into Renaissance Europe, after contracting it during their voyage to the New World? Or does this pathogen have a much older history? A study by Kristin Harper and colleagues published last week in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases lends support to what’s known as the Columbian theory of syphilis’s origin while suggesting that the non-sexually-transmitted subspecies arose earlier in the Old World.

The study spread throughout both mainstream press and science blogosphere alike, as did a related Expert Commentary, written by Connie Mulligan and colleagues, that challenged the methods and findings of the syphilis study.

Bora made sure that “syphilis” was the buzzword of the day on ScienceBlogs, and three of his SciBlings’ amazing blogs are highlighted here:

Aetiology: Where did syphilis come from?

Afarensis: Syphils: The View from Bioarchaeology

Greg Laden: The Origin of Syphilis

Jonathan Eisen also blogged about the paper, and drew our attention to a CBC Radio interview with one of the study’s co-authors that you can listen to here.

Carl Zimmer wrote about the paper in Science, and mentions it on his blog.

The study was picked up by more than 100 outlets total. Some of the excellent coverage is highlighted here:

Daily Mail: How Columbus came home with more than he expected

Forbes: Columbus Carried Syphilis From New World to Europe, Study Suggests

Los Angeles Times: Add syphilis to Columbus' discoveries, study says

National Geographic: Did Columbus Bring Syphilis to Europe?

New Scientist: Columbus blamed for spread of syphilis

New York Times: Genetic Study Bolsters Columbus Link to Syphilis

Newsweek: American to Europe: Here, Have Some Syphilis

Reuters: New study blames Columbus for syphilis spread

Scientific American: Did Columbus Bring Syphilis to Europe?

Telegraph: Columbus did bring syphilis from America

Toronto Star: New twist on old scourge

U.S. News & World Report: Columbus Carried Syphilis From New World to Europe, Study Suggests

Wired News: The Real Discovery of Christopher Columbus: Syphilis

The paper was also covered by Economist, Bloomberg, CBC News,, ABC News, MSNBC, Fox News, and, quite unfortunately, Rush Limbaugh.

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