Hungarian Skeletons Reveal Ancient Line Of Tuberculosis
October 31, 2013

Hungarian Skeletons Reveal Ancient Line Of Tuberculosis

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A deadly disease that ravaged Europe before the Industrial Revolution, tuberculosis was once associated with vampires, as infected members of a single family would lose their health slowly after one relative had died from the disease.

It turns out the disease has a long history on the continent, as a newly published study in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed evidence pointing to the existence of tuberculosis in Europe 7,000 years ago.

The revelation is based in the analysis of 71 skeletons recovered from the south of Hungary. The skeletons showed numerous cases of infections and signs of stress, including evidence of tuberculosis.

One particular skeleton, from a young male dubbed HGO-53, could be one of the earliest examples of a syndrome known as hypertrophic pulmonary osteopathy (HPO). The condition, characterized by undue proliferation of skin and bone, was caused by tuberculosis, the study researchers said. The remains were dated to approximately 4780 BC.

"This is a crucial find from a fantastic site,” said study author Muriel Masson, a biological anthropologist from the University of Szeged in Hungary. “It is not only the earliest occurrence of fully-developed HPO on an adult skeleton to date, but also clearly establishes the presence of Tuberculosis in Europe 7,000 years ago.”

The HGO-53 remains signify one of the few discoveries of HPO in prehistoric times. The previous oldest evidence of European tuberculosis was found in a 5,000 year-old site in Hungary, researchers said. In 2007, archeologists from the University of Texas announced they had identified evidence of tuberculosis on a 500,000-year-old humanoid fossil. The UT researchers said lesions on the skull of an early-human fossil were evidence of the disease.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual report on tuberculosis, which said countries across the globe were on schedule to meet United Nations goals of reversing tuberculosis incidence and cutting the mortality rate by 50 percent, as compared to 1990, in two years.

“Globally by 2012, the tuberculosis mortality rate had been reduced by 45 percent since 1990,” the report said. “The target to reduce deaths by 50 percent by 2015 is within reach.”

Despite the progress, about 3 million people with tuberculosis worldwide are being missed by healthcare systems, and drug-resistant strains of the disease are a constant threat.

"Far too many people are still missing out on care and are suffering as a result," Mario Raviglione, the WHO's director of the Global TB Program, told Fox News. "They are not diagnosed, or not treated, or information on the quality of care they receive is unknown."

According to Raviglione, insufficient resources for battling the disease are the main hurdles to additional progress, with a funding shortfall currently at about $2 billion a year.

Grania Brigden, a TB adviser for the international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, told Fox News that diagnosis and treatment failures were costing lives on a daily basis.

"The horrific scale of preventable suffering and death caused by the spiraling drug resistant TB crisis must spur governments, donors and WHO to mobilize the political will and secure the funding ... to tackle this deadly epidemic head on," she said.