The English Sweating Sickness: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Paul Heyman, Christel Cochez, Mirsada Hukić


In this paper we aim to add additional knowledge regarding the occurrence, origin and epidemiological features of the English sweating sickness. The English sweating sickness raged in five devastating epidemics with mortality rates between 30 and 50% between 1485 and 1551 throughout England, and on one occasion also affected mainland Europe, in 1529. The Picardy sweat, generally considered as the English sweating sickness’ lesser deadly successor, flared up in France in 1718 and caused 196 localized outbreaks with varying severity all over France and neighboring countries up to 1861. The English sweating sickness has been the subject of numerous attempts to define its origin, but so far all efforts have failed due to lack of material, DNA or RNA, that - using modern techniques and knowledge - could shed light on its cause. Although the time frame in which the English sweating sickness occurred and the geographical spread of the outbreaks is generally known, we will demonstrate here that there was more to it than meets the eye. We found reports of cases of sweating sickness in years before, after and between the 1485, 1508, 1517, 1529 and 1551 epidemics, as well as reports of sweating sickness in Italy and Spain.

Conclusion. In spite of the fact that the English sweating sickness apparently has not caused casualties for a more than a century now, we suggest that -given the right circumstances- the possibility of re-emergence might still exist. The fact that up until today we have no indication concerning the causal pathogen of the English sweating sickness is certainly not re-assuring.


English sweating sickness; Sudor anglicus; Hantavirus; Picardy sweat; Hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome

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