Volume 2, Number 3—July 1996
AIDS: Déjà Vu in Ancient Egypt?
To the Editor: The recent letter by Olson et al. (1) on the plague of Athens and the “reemergence (?)” of Ebola virus prompts brief reiteration of an earlier communication (2) placing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) back in history, possibly in the time of the pharaohs.
Translations of the Papyrus Ebers from ancient Egyptian literature repeatedly make reference to difficulties in the diagnosis of conditions under the names disease, uxedu-disease, and uha-disease (3). The interpretation of these diseases has been inconclusive among Egyptologists. However, the many remedies proposed for the ravages of , whether by itself or complicated by uxedu- or uha-disease, brand it as a scourge of first magnitude. is mentioned 50 times in four papyri (28 times in Papyrus Ebers, 12 times in Papyrus Berlin, 9 times in Papyrus Hearst, and once in the London Papyrus ). The hieroglyphic symbol (Figure) for (5) is shown below.
Could this be documentation of HIV, or more accurately its prototype, occurring in Egypt during the time of the pharaohs?
- Olson PE, Hames CS, Benenson AS, Genovese EN. The Thucydides syndrome: Ebola déjà vu? (or Ebola reemergent?). Emerg Infect Dis. 1996;2:1556.
- Ablin RJ, Immerman RS, Gonder MJ. AIDS: a disease of ancient Egypt? N Y State J Med. 1985;85:2001.
- Bryan CP, Smith GE. The, In: Ancient Egyptian medicine: the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1924:11923.
- Ghalioungui P. Magic and medical science in ancient Egypt. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963.
- Von Deines H, Westeneorf W. Wöterbuch der medizimischen texte. Berlin, Germany. AkademieVerlag. 1961;7:129.