Lesions of Syphilis in American Indians

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  • Department of Tropical Medicine of the Harvard School of Public Health


  1. 1.Much evidence derived from pre-Columbian bones indicates that syphilis existed among certain tribes of Indians living in various widely separated parts of the Americas and that its presence was manifested by lesions very like those which syphilis produces today in other races. On the other hand, Hrdlička (1908 and 1932) doubts that pre-Columbian syphilis existed.
  2. 2.Certain apparently authentic historical information indicates that syphilis first appeared in the Mexican State of Lower California in the 18th Century, and that it was so severe as to decimate the Indian population living there at that period. There may also have been an epidemic of syphilis among the Iroquois in about 1862.
  3. 3.Information is conflicting about the clinical manifestations of syphilis in North American Indians. In Yucatan and in Guatemala, lesions which are sufficiently characteristic to warrant a clinical diagnosis of syphilis are strikingly few. They appear to be far more frequent in certain other Indian groups in North America and notable among those of the northwest.
  4. 4.Several authorities have expressed the opinion that cerebral and neurological lesions due to syphilis are extremely rare among Indians in North America.
  5. 5.The scarcity of characteristic signs of syphilis in the Indian groups studied in Yucatan and in Guatemala, is the more significant because the disease had not been checked by the use of recognized forms of treatment.
  6. 6.Further studies are needed of the clinical manifestations of syphilis among Indians in many parts of the Americas. These studies should include serological data as a basis for determining the approximate proportions of latency of the disease.

Pure-blood or nearly pure-blood Indians should be selected for comparison with other races.