Spain, America and Diseases

There is frequent talk about the diseases the Europeans brought to the Americas, but seldom is the reverse process mentioned.  This is part of the romantic legends about the American Indians.  Linda Nyquist mentioned mal de pinta. Randy Black quote this desription from Baylor University: Pinta (mal de pinto, carate) (Rural areas of Latin America): Pinta is a spirochetal (Treponema carateum) skin infection characterized by a painless scaling papule with regional lymphadenopathy progressing to non-ulcerating maculopapular erythematous areas. Spread is by extension and by secondary lesions (pintides), which may be numerous. Pintides may be psoriatic or circinate in configuration. Initially the pintides are red, then slate blue, and then loss of pigmentation occurs, resulting first in brown areas, and eventually in mottled white skin. Lesions appear in various stages of development and are seen most commonly on the extremities and face. Pinta is decreasing in incidence and prevalence. The preferred treatment is 2.4 million units of IM benzathine penicillin G for adults and 1.2 million units for children. Source:
And this: … the widespread availability of penicillin has reduced the threat of three historically important diseases: the flan, cuchipe. or raspberry, that is produced by Treponema pertenue; Mal de Pinto or white lion disease produced by Treponema herrejoni; and syphilis produced by Treponema pallidum. Flan was mentioned by Luis Pesce in 1908 and was widely distributed in Amazonia. Clinical cases have been observed very rarely in some high jungle regions, particularly Pozuzo. One penicillin injection is sufficient treatment. Mat de Pinto was found in numerous valleys on the Andes' western slope, the lower sections of the inter-Andean valleys of the Marañon and Huallaga rivers, and upper reaches of Amazonian tributaries. This disease is known in the jungle as mange and, other parts, as leprosy. It produces a series of scaly and whitened lesions (caused by witchcraft, some believe) generally localized on the face, legs, and soles of the feet where they are called llaga. Penicillin has virtually wiped out this disease, as it has helped to control the spread of syphilis.

Tim Brown writes:The Spanish Conquest involved two other killers of Indians arguably more important than disease, the enslavement of Indians and forced labor under appalling conditions. I commend to WAISers two works I find especially instructive in this regard on Central America, Newsom's Indian Survival  and Sherman's Forced Native Labor.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: October 23, 2004