Anthrax and the etiology of the English sweating sickness

Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(1):155-7. doi: 10.1016/s0306-9877(03)00303-7.


In 2001, spores of Bacillus anthracis were deliberately sent through the United States postal system, resulting in five deaths from inhalational anthrax. Rarely observed clinical symptoms associated with these cases led to a hypothesis about the etiology of the English Sweating Sickness. The disease appeared sporadically in England between 1485 and 1551. Numerous viruses have been proposed as possible causes of the "English Sweat". Anthrax has not previously been considered because, documented cases of inhalational anthrax have been rare and pronounced sweating was not a noted symptom of the more common cutaneous and gastrointestinal forms of anthrax. Victims of the English Sweating Sickness have recently been identified in undisturbed tombs. It may be possible to examine those bodies and coffins for the presence of resilient anthrax spores and DNA using modern genomic tools.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anthrax / complications*
  • Anthrax / diagnosis
  • Anthrax / history
  • Anthrax / physiopathology
  • Cadaver
  • England
  • Forensic Medicine / methods
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • Humans
  • Sweating Sickness / diagnosis
  • Sweating Sickness / etiology*
  • Sweating Sickness / history
  • Sweating Sickness / physiopathology