Medieval skeleton offers clues to history of leprosy

Medieval skeleton offers clues to history of leprosy

An analysis of a skeleton unearthed from a burial site in the U.K. has revealed clues to the history of infectious disease of leprosy, researchers reported.

The skeleton was unearthed during an excavation of the medieval site of Winchester, England-based St. Mary Magdalen hospital cemetery and chapel. Radiocarbon dating of the skeleton revealed that it was buried sometime during the late 11th or early 12th Century.

Scientific detective work suggested that the remained belonged to a male religious pilgrim who might have caught leprosy during his travels. The analysis also allowed researchers to genotype the disease.

The study also revealed that leprosy-causing bacteria have slightly changed over hundreds of years, probably explaining the decline in the devastating disease after it peaked in medieval Europe and humans gradually developed resistance to it.

However, the 2F strain lineage that was genotyped by the researchers is still linked with some cases in regions like south-central and western Asia. Though the disease continues to occur, it was removed as a public health issue in 2000, which means that it affects less than one case per 10,000 individuals.

Leprosy, which primarily affects the patient’s skin, eyes and nerves, is now totally curable with multidrug therapy, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has been distributing for free since 1995.

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