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[Tarantism in Spain in the eighteen century: latrodectism and suggestion].

Revista de Neurologia 2016 October 17
INTRODUCTION: Tarantism is the disease caused by the bite of the tarantula, in which the music tarantella triggers an involuntary dance. It is known in Italy since the sixteenth century.

AIM: To analyze the tarantism reported in Spain at the end of the eighteenth century, with special attention to its neurological aspects, and to propose its medical and psychopathological explanation.

DEVELOPMENT: An epidemic of people affected by the tarantula bite occurred in Spain in 1782. Spanish doctors described appropriately the clinical effects, identical to those produced by the bite of the spider black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus), which was at that time identified as a tarantula. The cases reported by Francisco Xavier Cid cured with the involuntary dance triggered by the tarantella, as was described in Italy since the sixteenth century. Our interpretation is that this curative effect of dance in Spain was induced by suggestion. In Spanish patients there were no behavioral disturbances, periodic recurrences or collective involvement as those reported by Italian authors, which suggest an hysterical phenomenon, probably a continuation of the dancing mania of the Middle Age.

CONCLUSIONS: Tarantism reported in Spain in the eighteenth century includes two different phenomena: the systemic symptoms produced by the tarantula bite, which is actually latrodectism, and the curative effect of the tarantella, explained by suggestion. The psychiatric disturbances, with a hysterical nature, falsely associated to the tarantula bite, observed in Italy, were not present among the Spanish cases of tarantism in the eighteenth century.

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