The return of scurvy, the “plague of the seas” responsible for thousands of deaths among sailors

The return of scurvy, the “plague of the seas” responsible for thousands of deaths among sailors
The return of scurvy, the “plague of the seas” responsible for thousands of deaths among sailors

The disease was supposed to have been eradicated for several centuries, but scurvy has been making a comeback for several years. Thanks to an 18th-century Scottish doctor, we now know how to treat the disease.

There are diseases that we thought belonged to the past and this one was one of them. This is clearly no longer the case. Scurvy has been back for several years. This disease, which is called “sea plague” or “sailors’ disease”, remained of mysterious origin for a long time before being eradicated since the end of the 18th century… before its return three centuries later.

Signs that should alert you

We now know that scurvy results from avitaminosis due to a deficiency in ascorbic acid or vitamin C. Just three months of vitamin C deficiency is enough to see the first signs of scurvy appear. For the past ten years, many countries have regularly reported the return of the disease. In France, in 2015, a doctor at the Limoges University Hospital identified ten cases of scurvy, reports The Parisian. Three years later, the site Science Alert mentioned about thirty sick people in the United States.

Bleeding gums, loose teeth, thinning hair or overwhelming fatigue… These symptoms should alert you. “Scurvy occurs when you consume less than 10 mg of vitamin C per day, whereas you need between 80 and 100 mg.”explains Jean-Michel Lecerf, head of the nutrition department at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, to the Parisian.

Lemon juice, a miracle cure

Thousands of sailors died from the disease, but today the disease is no longer fatal and doctors know how to treat it thanks to James Lind, a Scottish doctor who discovered in the mid-18th century that citrus fruits could cure scurvy. He realized this after treating patients with a simple prescription of lemon juice.

Overall, to avoid getting sick, you need to eat a balanced diet. People who are sick often come from disadvantaged social backgrounds who prefer filling foods with very limited intake. While citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, most vegetables are rich in it… as long as you don’t overcook them! “It destroys vitamin C”emphasizes Jenny Gunton, Australian clinician and researcher, to the channel ABC.

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