Britain's sweating disease which killed thousands 'still a mystery' 500 years on

A strange new disease which killed thousands and altered the course of history remains a mystery 500 years on.

While Covid infections may be soaring again in a fifth wave, 500 years ago a very different disease was spreading its deadly tentacles across the country.

Unlike coronavirus, however, this epidemic has left medical experts and historians baffled for centuries and remains unexplained to this day.

Later named the ‘Picardy Sweat’ after its most common symptom, unlucky souls caught in its line of fire in the late 15th and early 16th centuries would break out in extreme sweating and die hours later.

According to the saying, people would ‘take ill by supper, be dead by morn’. With a 30-50% mortality rate, those who made it through the first 24 hours alive would usually go on to survive.

The disease roamed rampant for 70 years before disappearing, and is considered one of medicine’s biggest mysteries whose devastation saw the tumultuous Tudors take the throne – altering British history entirely – after killing Prince Arthur.

Life was already pretty difficult in late-1400s Britain, with harsh conditions, limited diets and women vastly subordinate to men in all classes. For children, you had just a 50% shot of making it through your first year of infancy.


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