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An international team of scientists has discovered strains extinct smallpox teeth skeletons vikings found in archaeological sites all over Europe. The research, published in the journal “Science”, demonstrates for the first time that the deadly disease has affected mankind for at least 1,400 years.
smallpox is spread from person to person through infectious droplets, kills a third of sick people and leaves another third permanently scarred or blind. Around 300 million of people died in the TWENTIETH century before it was officially eradicated in 1980 through an effort of vaccination overall, becoming the first human disease that was eliminated.
The researchers, led by Eske Willerslev, a professor of the University of Cambridge and director of the Center for Geogenética of the Foundation, Lundbeck, University of Copenhagen, sequenced the genomes of strains of smallpox removed from the teeth in eleven burial sites from the viking era in Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United Kingdom. They also found the virus in multiple human remains from Öland, an island off the east coast of Sweden with a long history of trade. The team was able to rebuild the virus genomes nearly complete for four of the samples. So they realized that their genetic structure is different from the smallpox virus modern eradicated in the TWENTIETH century. For that reason, do not know how they manifested the disease in the Viking Era, it could have been different from the virulent strain, and modern that killed and deformed her hundreds of millions of people.
Propagation by EuropaVikingos massacred in the X century, found in a common grave in the St John’s College, Oxford – archaeological Services of the Thames valley
“The people who travel the world, rapidly sweeping the Covid-19 and it is likely that the vikings, who moved through Europe and beyond, spread the smallpox. Just at that moment, they were traveling by boat instead of by plane”, says Willerslev. “The genetic information of 1,400 years old extracted from these skeletons, it is extremely important because it teaches us about the evolutionary history of the variola virus that caused smallpox,” he adds.
smallpox was eradicated in most of Europe and the united States in the early TWENTIETH century, but remained endemic in Africa, Asia and South America. The World Health Organization launched an eradication program in 1967, which included the follow-up of contacts, and campaigns of mass-media communication, all of the techniques of public health that countries have been using to control the pandemic coronavirus today. But it was the global launch of a vaccine that finally allowed scientists to stop smallpox in their way.
historians believe that smallpox could have existed from the year 10,000. C., but until now there was no scientific evidence that the virus was present before the SEVENTEENTH century. It is not known how infected for the first time to humans, but, as the covid-19, is believed to come from animals.
“The time line of the occurrence of smallpox has always been a bit unclear, but the sequenced strain earliest known of the killer virus, we have demonstrated for the first time that smallpox existed during the Viking Era,” says Martin Sikora, one of the principal authors who led the study, from the Centre of Geogenética of the University of Copenhagen.
In his opinion, “although we do not know with certainty if these strains of smallpox were fatal and caused the death of the vikings, certainly died with smallpox in your bloodstream. It is also very likely that there are epidemics before of our findings which we have not yet discovered evidence”.
Vikings in a common grave in the St John’s College, Oxford – archaeological Services of the valley of the TámesisEnfermedades emerging
The researchers believe that understanding the genetic structure of this virus can help virologists to understand the evolution of not just this but also of other viruses and combating viral diseases are emerging. As they explain, “the knowledge of the past can protect us in the present. When an animal or plant is extinct, it does not return. But mutations can recur or be reversed, and the virus can mutate or be a zoonosis”, an outbreak of infectious disease caused by a pathogen that jumps from an animal not human to a human. What is assumed has happened with the new coronavirus.
As he concludes the professor Willerslev, “the smallpox was eradicated, but another strain could spill from the reservoir of animals tomorrow. What we know in 2020 on viruses and pathogens that affect humans today is only a small snapshot of what has plagued humans historically”.