December 2010

The Mysterious "Sweating Sickness"

We think of disease as a fixed, known quantity.  But there are many medical mysteries of the past, diseases which came and went as mysteriously as they arrived, leaving behind only a trail of bodies as evidence.  One such mysterious disease is the "English Sweate," which struck England and Europe between 1485 and 1551, never to be seen again.

The "Sweating sickness" came on fast, and was extremely virulent.  (Of course, hygiene standards at the time were so poor that it's amazing anyone survived, so perhaps the disease might not seem nearly as virulent if it re-emerged today.) 

Its symptoms had three stages:

Stage 1: Cold. This stage included shivering, headache, neck and joint pain, and chills.  This stage lasted up to three hours.