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 February 26, 1881 in 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 November 25, 1969 in Kassel-Wilhelmshoehe
Medical Eponyms
Reactive arthritis (1916)

Archaic eponym: Reiter syndrome. Triad of arthritis, urethritis and conjunctivitis.

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

1942 – Walter Bauer and Ephraim P. Engleman first used the term ‘Reiter’s syndrome‘, leading to the terms subsequent widespread adoption. [Trans Assoc Am Physicians 1942;57:307-313.]

2003 – Rheumatology journal editors agreed to expunge the term ‘Reiter’s syndrome‘ from the literature, substituting the term ‘reactive arthritis

2007 – Engleman et al published a retraction of the suggestion to use the term “Reiter’s syndrome”

We call for repudiating Reiter and reverting to or substituting other terms for the syndrome, such as reactive arthritis, for moral, ethical, and professional imperatives.

Medicine is a moral enterprise. Physicians serve to promote the welfare of their patients. Hans Reiter was a Nazi war criminal responsible for heinous atrocities that violated the precepts of humanity, ethics, and professionalism. We see no acceptable rationale to preserve any professional memory of Reiter within our medical culture, except as a symbol of what our societal values obligate us to reject. We have therefore suggested that the professional and ethical position be that we no longer afford him this recognition 

Panush, Wallace, Dorff, Engleman 2007
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.

Weil disease
  • 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)

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]

Major Publications


Eponymous terms

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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