Weird History
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12 Historical Figures Who Suffered From Diseases Since Cured or Made Treatable

Updated April 14, 2020 48.6k views12 items

The greatest humans can be brought down by the smallest things. Many historical figures, some of whom changed the world in fundamental ways, weren't brought down by epic struggles or grand battles, but suffered or perished from diseases then deemed incurable. Thankfully, science and medicine constantly evolve, and understanding of diseases improves with this evolution. Today's incurable ailment may be tomorrow's eradicated disease; it's often just a matter of time, resources, and knowledge.

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to benefit from advances in medicine. No amount of historical magnitude can make a person immune to a lethal illness. Many famous men and women who shaped history died as the result of what are now cured diseases. Put on your biohazard suit and wander into the germ-ridden past, a fetid swamp littered with the corpses of historical figures who suffered or died from diseases since cured. 

  • Photo: Elias Goldensky / Wikipedia / Public Domain

    What Killed Him: Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted poliomyelitis, better known as polio, a viral disease that invades the nervous system and causes paralysis, at 39. Polio is primarily known for infecting children, but it bound FDR to a wheelchair for much of his presidency. He became weak, and eventually died from a massive cerebral hemorrhage while still in office

    How Science Cured It: While there isn't a complete cure for polio, a vaccine has dramatically reduced the spread of the virus, to the point that it's barely a concern. 

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  • What Killed Him: While Vladimir Lenin officially died following a stroke, new research suggests syphilis was likely the cause of death. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that produces sores in several places on the body, including the eyes. If untreated, it can cause blindness, paralysis, dementia, and death.

    How Science Cured It: Modern antibiotics have made syphilis easily curable, so long as those afflicted treat the infection early.

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  • Photo: Orville Wright and Wilbur WrightLibrary of Congress / Public Domain

    What Killed Him: While under a great deal of stress due to legal troubles, Wilbur Wright, co-inventor of the airplane, contracted typhoid fever. Typhoid is an extreme bacterial infection contracted through contaminated food or water. The initial effects are high fever and severe abdominal problems. If left untreated, typhoid can lead to delirium and death. 

    How Science Cured It: A typhoid vaccine keeps people from contracting the infection. Those who do contract it can seek antibiotic treatments for a full recovery. 

  • Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    What Killed Him: A famous European explorer, Lord Byron died in Greece while participating in the country's struggle for independence from Turkey. He passed of a violent fever possibly exacerbated by bloodletting with unsterile instruments. On a previous trip to Greece, Byron contracted malaria, and while his autopsy presented findings inconsistent with death-by-malaria, some modern sources hypothesize that his fever was a recurrence of the disease. Malaria is caused by various species of parasites and results in extreme flu-like symptoms. If untreated, it's frequently fatal. 

    How Science Cured It: While malaria is still relatively common in tropical areas in the 21 century, there are a lot of drugs available to fight the parasite. Anti-malaria vaccinations also exist for travelers, which lessen the chance of contacting the illness. 

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