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Darwin's Illness$
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Ralph Colp Jr.

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813032313

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813032313.001.0001

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The Possibility of Chagas' Disease

The Possibility of Chagas' Disease

(p.142) 20 The Possibility of Chagas' Disease
Darwin's Illness

Ralph Colp Jr. M.D.

University Press of Florida

After many psychological reasons for Charles Darwin's illness had been enunciated, infectious causes were considered. Professor Saul Adler identified the “black bug” that had bitten Darwin as “Triatoma infestans”—a frequent carrier of the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas' disease. Since Chagas' disease would not be known until 1909, this would explain why no Victorian doctor was able to diagnose it. Adler's theory of Chagas' disease met with a series of receptions: acceptance, rejection, again acceptance, and then controversy. Sir Peter Medawar and Dr. James Brussel each published articles that emphasized that Darwin had both Chagas' infection and a neurosis. However, A. W. Woodruff published several articles in which he argued that there were six clinical and epidemiological objections to the theory about Chagas' disease. David Adler and Jared Haft Goldstein each published articles postulating that Darwin could have contracted Chagas' disease, and they assembled various arguments against the objections of Woodruff. Conclusive evidence for Chagas' could only be obtained if a coroner issued a warrant for Darwin's body to be exhumed from its Westminster Abby grave and if the body were then tested for T. cruzi antibodies and antigens.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, Chagas' disease, Professor Saul Adler, Sir Peter Medawar, Dr. James Brussel, A. W. Woodruff, David Adler, Jared Haft Goldstein, Trypanosoma cruzi

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