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