First observed in the British Expeditionary Forces in 1915, a trench fever caused some 500,000 soldiers to become ill during World War I.
Since then, disease synonymous with battlefield. But now, new research from an international team of scientists has uncovered evidence that defies this longstanding belief.
The study, published this week in “PLOS ONE“, Outlining the discovery of DNA evidence of this disease among civilians thousands of years before World War I. In total, the team analyzed bone and tooth fragments from 145 living individuals from the 1st to 19th centuries. About 20% of them had traces of Bartonellaniversana, the bacteria that cause the disease. oyster sauce.
Davide Tanasi, an associate professor in the USF̵7;s Department of History and a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies of Culture and Environment, unearthed the remains for this project from a Roman cemetery in Syracuse, Sicily. Tanasi, also the director of USF’s Institute for Digital Exploration, first started working on the site to better understand the eating habits and health of the Christian community living there in the 3rd century. and 4. Through collaboration with French epidemiologists, the researchers used real-time polymerase chain reaction testing to detect B’s DNA in the remains.
“After you get sick, there are diseases, like typhus, that can leave traces in your DNA and can integrate your DNA with other information,” says Tanasi. “This means that once a person dies, even 2,000 years ago, they can still find traces of the bacteria that infected them.”
Tanasi said the discovery shed light on the complex history of the trench fever and began answering historical questions about the lives of Christian citizens in the area during the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Archeology is not just the study of the past, but also something that can make the present better through research about the past, he said. “The better we understand the behavior of these bacteria in the past, the more we can design plans to address them, stop them and eliminate them in the present.”
While most illnesses are associated with World War I and World War II, occurrence of trench fever is still reported today, most notably among the homeless. This bacterium is spread to humans by contact with body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis), making poor personal hygiene a major factor in its rate of spread and infection. The researchers hope that by tracking the historical progression of B. weights, they can identify ways to better manage the spread of today’s disease.
For Tanasi, his work with the remains unearthed in Sicily continued. Through stable isotope analysis, his team looked at the diets and lives of people who used to live in the area. He hopes this work will answer further questions about the lifestyle and health of the Christian community in Roman Syracuse.
Title image credit: University of South Florida