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Home > History > Explorer Legends, Goals, and Destinations - Scurvy

Explorer Legends, Goals, and Destinations - Scurvy

This page describes the symptoms of Scurvy - a common ailment on seafaring vessels.

Scurvy

Patient with Scurvy

Scurvy

Scurvy is a horrible disease that results from an acute lack of Vitamin-C over time. Vitamin-C is most commonly found in fruits and vegetables. During the Age of Exploration, sailors on long ocean voyages often contracted Scurvy, as food supplies quickly spoiled, reducing diets to salted beef (though in many cases fresh meat has enough Vitamin-C to prevent or cure Scurvy), dried grains, or in desperate situations, anything that could be eaten. Sailors during this time believed Scurvy was caused by a wide range of potential culprits including putrid air rising from swamps. The idea that the disease was caused by a lack of Vitamin-C was not confirmed until 1932. According to some estimates, Scurvy accounted for the deaths of over two million soldiers during the Age of Exploration.

Sailors with Scurvy would first experience weeks of malaise or fatigue. As the disease worsened, bone and joint pain intensified and sailors would develop sores that failed to heal. In later stages, gums would swell, teeth would fall out, and mental changes such as agitation and confusion would manifest. In its final stages, scurvy would result in the swelling of various parts of the body, convulsions, and organ failure. Even it its later stages, the effects of Scurvy could be reversed if Vitamin-C was introduced.

 

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