Syphilis was a widespread infectious disease in the 17th century Italy, commonly treated with mercury-based ointments and fumigations. Few reports exist on the analysis of abnormally high mercury levels in bone as a result of exposure to mercury-containing anti-syphilitic medicine. In this research, two crania recovered among the 2.9 million commingled bones resting under the crypt of the former hospital of the poor of Milan were submitted to pathological, radiological and toxicological analysis. The crania showed gummatous lesions characteristic of tertiary syphilis and ICP-MS analysis revealed over the double values of mercury in bone relative to that of the control sample. Archival documentation confirms the presence and use of mercury-based treatments in the pharmacy of the hospitals of Milan. Consequently, the individuals probably came into contact with mercury as a treatment for syphilis, confirming its medical use in the 17th century Milan and strengthening our knowledge of the history of medicine.

Mercury poisoning in two patients with tertiary syphilis from the Ca’ Granda hospital (17 th century Milan) / L. Biehler Gomez, M. Mattia, C. Sala, G. Giordano, D. Di Candia, C. Messina, L.M. Sconfienza, A.F. Franchini, A. Porro, P. Maria Galimberti, F. Slavazzi, C. Cattaneo. - In: ARCHAEOMETRY. - ISSN 0003-813X. - (2021), pp. 1-11. [Epub ahead of print] [10.1111/arcm.12721]

Mercury poisoning in two patients with tertiary syphilis from the Ca’ Granda hospital (17 th century Milan)

L. Biehler Gomez
Primo
;
M. Mattia
Secondo
;
G. Giordano;D. Di Candia;C. Messina;L.M. Sconfienza;A.F. Franchini;A. Porro;F. Slavazzi
Penultimo
;
C. Cattaneo
Ultimo
2021

Abstract

Syphilis was a widespread infectious disease in the 17th century Italy, commonly treated with mercury-based ointments and fumigations. Few reports exist on the analysis of abnormally high mercury levels in bone as a result of exposure to mercury-containing anti-syphilitic medicine. In this research, two crania recovered among the 2.9 million commingled bones resting under the crypt of the former hospital of the poor of Milan were submitted to pathological, radiological and toxicological analysis. The crania showed gummatous lesions characteristic of tertiary syphilis and ICP-MS analysis revealed over the double values of mercury in bone relative to that of the control sample. Archival documentation confirms the presence and use of mercury-based treatments in the pharmacy of the hospitals of Milan. Consequently, the individuals probably came into contact with mercury as a treatment for syphilis, confirming its medical use in the 17th century Milan and strengthening our knowledge of the history of medicine.
ancient hospital; ICP-MS; infectious disease; mercury; syphilis; syphilis treatment; venereal disease;
Settore MED/02 - Storia della Medicina
Settore BIO/08 - Antropologia
Settore L-ANT/10 - Metodologie della Ricerca Archeologica
24-set-2021
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/2434/875767
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