Sleuths Unravel Darwin's Illnesses

One factor: He picked up a bug on his Beagle voyage

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted May 10, 2011 12:06 PM CDT

(Newser) – Charles Darwin's voyage on the HMS Beagle brought him evolutionary insights, fame, and a nasty parasite that probably contributed to his death. Medical sleuths examining his symptoms say he likely contracted Chagas disease from a bug bite in 1835, reports the Wall Street Journal. The illness can lie dormant for years before surfacing as the kind of heart trouble that killed Darwin in 1882 at age 73.

Darwin apparently had two other ailments that contributed to his lifelong discomfort, notes AP: An unfortunate one called cyclic vomiting syndrome, which he probably picked up as a kid and caused him to throw up stomach acids after meals, and Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that causes peptic ulcers. "One illness did not explain his ailments," says one gastroenterologist who helped study Darwin's case for an annual medical conference in Maryland. "There were symptoms all over the place. Putting it all together over his lifetime with multiple illnesses made it work."

This photo from 1878 provided by the Granger Collection shows English naturalist Charles Darwin.
This photo from 1878 provided by the Granger Collection shows English naturalist Charles Darwin.   (AP Photo/The Granger Collection, File)
Charles Darwin poses in a wicker chair in 1875 at an unknown location.
Charles Darwin poses in a wicker chair in 1875 at an unknown location.   (AP Photo, File)
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