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First Leprosy Case in History is 4,000 Years Old
The remains have been found in India
Despite the fact that leprosy only affected Europe after 1,000 AD, albeit with devastating consequences, archaeological pieces of evidence now seem to suggest that the disease is actually at least 4,000 years old. Remains of a victim were found in India, a discovery that could provide experts with more insight into the nature of the disease, as well as in the way it transmitted during prehistoric times. Understanding how the condition extended early on, when the human population groups around the world were not aware of each other, could be important in determining what factors caused some of the strains to mutate. They became more lethal, and eventually brought the Black Plague to Europe.

Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterial culprit behind the disease, is extremely difficult to study in cultures, mostly because it has no other hosts than humans and nine banded armadillos. On account of this fact, research in the field has been stagnant for a long time, and leprosy has still remained one of the least understood diseases in the world. Although patients with M. leprae can infect others, the disease has been brought under control in most countries of the globe, and is no longer a threat.

For the most part, researchers had no idea as to when the disease appeared, or how it spread. The oldest pieces of evidence of it came from Egyptian and Thai bodies, from around 300 to 400 BC. But the Indian remains, which are accurately described in the May 27th issue of the online journal PLoS ONE, were buried at least around 2,000 BC, in Rajasthan, India. The civilization to which the individual belonged, “headquartered” at the agrarian settlement of Balathal, lived on the border of the more significant Indus (Harappan) Civilization.

According to the researchers who made the discovery, the find proves that leprosy existed in South Asia at least 4,000 years ago, which means that the bacteria must have come from Africa, at the same time with the great migrations, and with the opening of regular trade routes. Appalachian State University expert and team member Gwen Robbins is currently extracting DNA samples from the remains, in hopes of determining which strain of leprosy the unfortunate victim was infected with, LiveScience reports.
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