Study: Scientists Solve Mystery Of Medieval Leprosy

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File photo of a woman who suffers from leprosy.  (credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

File photo of a woman who suffers from leprosy. (credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSDC) – Biologists and archaeologists were able to conclude why there was a sudden drop of leprosy at the end of the Middle Ages.

At one point during Medieval Europe the disease was so common that nearly one in 30 people were affected.

By the end of the 16th century, it appeared that the disease just ended abruptly. Biologists and archaeologists wanted to know why, so an international team got together and dug up remains of people buried in medieval graves.

Researchers had to reconstruct the bacterial genomes Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium responsible for leprosy.

“We were able to reconstruct the genome without using any contemporary strains as a basis,” Pushpendra Singh, co-author of the study and EPFL scientist, said in a press release.

They were able to almost exactly match the medieval strain.

“If the explanation of the drop of leprosy cases isn’t in the pathogen, then it must be in the host, that is, in us; so that’s where we need to look,” Stewart Cole, co-director of the study and the head of EFFL’s Global Health Institute, added in the press release.

The scientists were able to indicate that humans developed resistance to the disease.

“In certain conditions, victims could simply be pressured not to procreate,” Cole added. “In addition, other studies have identified genetic causes that made most Europeans more resistant than the rest of the world population, which also lends credence to this hypothesis.”

The result was published in the journal Science.

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