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The use of mercury against pediculosis in the Renaissance: the case of Ferdinand II of Aragon, King of Naples, 1467-96.

Fornaciari G, Marinozzi S, Gazzaniga V, Giuffra V, Picchi MS, Giusiani M, Masetti M - Med Hist (2011)

Bottom Line: The hair samples of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467-1496), King of Naples, whose mummy is preserved in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, showed a high content of mercury, with a value of 827ppm.As a result, the high value of mercury in the hair of Ferdinand II can be attributed to antipediculosis therapy, applied as a topic medicament.This case represents an important finding for the history of medicine, because demonstrates that in the Renaissance mercury was applied locally not only to treat syphilis, as well attested by direct and indirect sources, but also to prevent or eliminate lice infestation.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Professor Gino Fornaciari and Dr Valentina Giuffra, Department of Oncology, Transplants and Advanced Technologies in Medicine, Division of Palaeopathology, History of Medicine and Bioethics, University of Pisa , Italy ; Dr Silvia Marinozzi and Professor Valentina Gazzaniga, Department of Experimental Medicine, Section of History of Medicine, University of Rome 'La Sapienza' , Italy; Dr Malayka Samantha Picchi and Dr Massimo Masetti, Department of Biology, Laboratory of Entomology, University of Pisa ; Professor Mario Giusiani, Department of Neuroscience, Section of Forensic Medicine, University of Pisa .

ABSTRACT
The hair samples of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467-1496), King of Naples, whose mummy is preserved in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, showed a high content of mercury, with a value of 827ppm. Furthermore, examination using a stereomicroscope and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) of head and pubic hairs of Ferdinand II, revealed a lice infestation. The reasons for the massive presence of the mercury in the king's hair are discussed and contemporary literature regarding the use of this metal in medical therapies and in cosmetic practices is analysed. As a result, the high value of mercury in the hair of Ferdinand II can be attributed to antipediculosis therapy, applied as a topic medicament. This case represents an important finding for the history of medicine, because demonstrates that in the Renaissance mercury was applied locally not only to treat syphilis, as well attested by direct and indirect sources, but also to prevent or eliminate lice infestation.

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(a) Leg claw of a head louse at stereomicroscope; (b) terminal part of the abdomen of a male head louse at Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM); (c) incomplete nit of pubic louse attached to a hair at SEM.
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fig2: (a) Leg claw of a head louse at stereomicroscope; (b) terminal part of the abdomen of a male head louse at Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM); (c) incomplete nit of pubic louse attached to a hair at SEM.

Mentions: Examination of Ferdinand’s hair samples with a stereomicroscope revealed the presence of the terminal part of the adult leg of a head louse (Figure 2a), the terminal part of two adult abdomens, belonging to male lice (Figure 2b), seven incomplete nits attached to a hair, and another five nit fragments, not cemented to a hair. Similar tests performed on the pubic hairs revealed the presence of two hairs each bearing the fragment of a louse nit (Figure 2c). Morphologically, it is not possible to distinguish nits observed on head hairs from those on pubic hairs.Figure 2:


The use of mercury against pediculosis in the Renaissance: the case of Ferdinand II of Aragon, King of Naples, 1467-96.

Fornaciari G, Marinozzi S, Gazzaniga V, Giuffra V, Picchi MS, Giusiani M, Masetti M - Med Hist (2011)

(a) Leg claw of a head louse at stereomicroscope; (b) terminal part of the abdomen of a male head louse at Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM); (c) incomplete nit of pubic louse attached to a hair at SEM.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3037217&req=5

fig2: (a) Leg claw of a head louse at stereomicroscope; (b) terminal part of the abdomen of a male head louse at Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM); (c) incomplete nit of pubic louse attached to a hair at SEM.
Mentions: Examination of Ferdinand’s hair samples with a stereomicroscope revealed the presence of the terminal part of the adult leg of a head louse (Figure 2a), the terminal part of two adult abdomens, belonging to male lice (Figure 2b), seven incomplete nits attached to a hair, and another five nit fragments, not cemented to a hair. Similar tests performed on the pubic hairs revealed the presence of two hairs each bearing the fragment of a louse nit (Figure 2c). Morphologically, it is not possible to distinguish nits observed on head hairs from those on pubic hairs.Figure 2:

Bottom Line: The hair samples of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467-1496), King of Naples, whose mummy is preserved in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, showed a high content of mercury, with a value of 827ppm.As a result, the high value of mercury in the hair of Ferdinand II can be attributed to antipediculosis therapy, applied as a topic medicament.This case represents an important finding for the history of medicine, because demonstrates that in the Renaissance mercury was applied locally not only to treat syphilis, as well attested by direct and indirect sources, but also to prevent or eliminate lice infestation.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Professor Gino Fornaciari and Dr Valentina Giuffra, Department of Oncology, Transplants and Advanced Technologies in Medicine, Division of Palaeopathology, History of Medicine and Bioethics, University of Pisa , Italy ; Dr Silvia Marinozzi and Professor Valentina Gazzaniga, Department of Experimental Medicine, Section of History of Medicine, University of Rome 'La Sapienza' , Italy; Dr Malayka Samantha Picchi and Dr Massimo Masetti, Department of Biology, Laboratory of Entomology, University of Pisa ; Professor Mario Giusiani, Department of Neuroscience, Section of Forensic Medicine, University of Pisa .

ABSTRACT
The hair samples of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467-1496), King of Naples, whose mummy is preserved in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, showed a high content of mercury, with a value of 827ppm. Furthermore, examination using a stereomicroscope and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) of head and pubic hairs of Ferdinand II, revealed a lice infestation. The reasons for the massive presence of the mercury in the king's hair are discussed and contemporary literature regarding the use of this metal in medical therapies and in cosmetic practices is analysed. As a result, the high value of mercury in the hair of Ferdinand II can be attributed to antipediculosis therapy, applied as a topic medicament. This case represents an important finding for the history of medicine, because demonstrates that in the Renaissance mercury was applied locally not only to treat syphilis, as well attested by direct and indirect sources, but also to prevent or eliminate lice infestation.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus