Hans Reiter

Hans Conrad Julius Reiter (1881 – 1969)

Hans Conrad Julius Reiter (1881 – 1969) was a German physician and social hygienist.

Formerly eponymously associated with the syndrome of arthritis, urethritis, and conjunctivitis occurring after enteric or genitourinary infections. The condition is now referred to as ‘reactive arthritis

The term Reiter syndrome was abandoned, in part, following revelations of Reiter’s own past as an early member of the Nazi party; his prominent role in the German health system during the Thrid Reich; and involvement with involuntary medical procedures and experiments in Nazi concentration camps.

Defined Leptospira icterohaeinorrhagica as the causative agent in Weil disease


  • Born 26 February 1881, Leipzig
  • 1900-1906 Studied medicine at Leipzig, Breslau (Wroclaw) and Tübingen
  • 1906 – MD dissertation on ‘Nephritis and Tuberculosis.’
  • 1907-1910 postgraduate training in bacteriology at the Pasteur Institute, Paris and St. Mary’s Hospital, London
  • 1913 – Privatdozent in the institute of hygiene at Königsberg
  • 1914-1918 Assistenzarzt in the German army, then to the Balkan front with the 1st Hungarian army
  • 1918 – Head of department at Rostock hygienical institute
  • 1923 – Head of department at Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute of Experimental Therapy in Berlin-Dahlem
  • 1926 – Director of the Mecklenburg Department of Health
  • 1932 – Joined the National Socialist movement and became a Member of Nazi Party. Joined other University professors in signing an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. In return they received appointments within the Nazi government.
  • 1935 – President of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases
  • 1933-1945 Appointed President of the German Office of Public Health (Berlin), Berlin and represented Germany at the International Health Organization (Paris)
  • 1942 – Co-author of book on racial hygiene ‘Deutsches Gold: Gesundes Leben – Frohes Schaffen’ [German Gold: Healthy life – happy work]
  • Lifetime honours include: Gold Doctoral Diploma, University of Leipzig; Robert Koch medal; Great Medal of Honor of the Red Cross; and affiliate member of the Royal Society of London.
  • Died 25 November 1969, Kassel-Wilhelmshoehe

Medical Eponyms

Reactive arthritis (1916)

Archaic eponym: Reiter syndrome. Triad of arthritis, urethritis and conjunctivitis. Bauer and Engleman first used the term ‘Reiter’s syndrome‘, [Trans Assoc Am Physicians 1942;57:307–13.] leading to the terms subsequent widespread adoption. 2003 – Rheumatology journal editors agreed to expunge the term ‘Reiter’s syndrome‘ from the literature, substituting the term ‘reactive arthritis

Other eponyms
  • Reiter spirochaeta – identified, named, and developed a specific antigen for a non-pathogenic variant of Treponema pallidum – the ‘Reiter strain‘. This led to the development of the (Reiter) Protein Complement-Fixation Test for syphilis.


  • Reiter was President of the Reich Health Office and was involved or knowledgeable of of involuntary sterilization, euthanasia, and the murder of Germany’s mental hospital population in his function as the gatherer of statistics and acting as ‘quality control‘ officer for some of these operations [Semin Arthritis Rheum 2003;32:208–30]
  • Reiter helped design and implement an explicitly criminal ‘experiment‘ at Buchenwald, where internees were inoculated with an experimental typhus vaccine, resulting in over 200 deaths. [J Clin Rheumatol 2000;6:49–54]

Key Medical Attributions

  • 1914 – Encountered numerous cases of Weil disease whilst working on the Western Front. Defined the previously unknown treponemal aetiologic agent as Leptospira icterohaeinorrhagica.
  • 1915 – Reiter published several studies with Hübener to document the spirochete. Independently in Japan, Inada and Ito discovered the same organism publishing their results the same month in 1915)
  • 1916 – Whilst on the Balkan front, Reiter treated a German army officer with the triad of symptoms – conjunctivitis, urethritis and arthritis. He recognized  these apparently diverse symptoms were manifestations of a single, disease entity [Reactive arthritis]

Major Publications


  • Bauer W, Engleman EP. Syndrome of unknown etiology characterized by urethritis, conjunctivitis and arthritis (so-called Reiter’s disease). Transactions of the Association of American Physicians. 1942;57:307–13.
  • Obituary: Hans Reiter (1881-1969) Reiter’s Syndrome. JAMA. 1970; 211(5):821-822. [PMID 4921573]
  • Good AE. Hans Reiter (1881-1969). Arthritis and Rheumatism. 1970;13(3):296-297
  • Wallace DJ, Weisman M. Should a war criminal be rewarded with eponymous distinction?: the double life of Hans Reiter (1881-1969). J Clin Rheumatol. 2000;6(1):49-54. [PMID 19078450]
  • Maitra RT. Comments regarding Hans Reiter’s role in Nazi Germany. J Clin Rheumatol 2001;7:127-129.
  • Panush RS, Paraschiv D, Dorff RE. The tainted legacy of Hans Reiter. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2003 Feb;32(4):231-6. [PMID 12621586]
  • Wallace DJ, Weisman M. The physician Hans Reiter as prisoner of war in Nuremberg: a contextual review of his interrogations (1945-1947). Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2003 Feb;32(4):208-30. [PMID 12621585]
  • Panush RS Ed. Year book of rheumatology, arthritis, and musculoskeletal disease. Philadelphia: Mosby; 2004:331–334.
  • Lu DW, Katz KA. Declining use of the eponym “Reiter’s syndrome” in the medical literature, 1998-2003. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;53(4):720-723. [PMID 16198806]
  • Panush RS, Wallace DJ, Dorff RE, Engleman EP. Retraction of the suggestion to use the term “Reiter’s syndrome” sixty-five years later: the legacy of Reiter, a war criminal, should not be eponymic honor but rather condemnation. Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Feb;56(2):693-4. [PMID 17265506]

eponymictionary CTA


the person behind the name

Dr Callum MacLean MBChB. | LinkedIn |

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