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Christopher Columbus, who was struck with a mysterious illness while returning from his first voyage to the New World, may have suffered from a severe form of arthritis. At the time, doctors thought he had gout. Although he made 4 trips to the Americas, the disease progressively became worse, and he died a crippled man.
Frank C. Arnett, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, said that Columbus likely had reactive arthritis, an illness caused by the bacteria responsible for food poisoning. It is not clear, however, what ultimately caused the explorer's death. Dr. Arnett noted that descriptions of Columbus as tall, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed also suggest he was of northern European ancestry, and 75% of those who acquire reactive arthritis have a gene found mostly in northern European countries.