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LeprosyPast and Present$
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Charlotte A. Roberts

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781683401841

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9781683401841.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM FLORIDA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.florida.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University Press of Florida, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FLASO for personal use.date: 26 September 2021

The Bioarchaeology of Leprosy

The Bioarchaeology of Leprosy

(p.127) 4 The Bioarchaeology of Leprosy

Charlotte A. Roberts

University Press of Florida

This chapter explores the bone changes in the skeleton related to leprosy (paleopathology). Diagnosing leprosy in skeletons ideally requires a complete well-preserved skeleton. The facial, hand, and foot bones are affected, but only a few percent of untreated people will develop bone lesions, and the type of leprosy depends on the resistance of their immune system to M. leprae. Most skeletons diagnosed will display lesions due to the low-resistant form: lepromatous leprosy. Damage to the peripheral nerves by M. leprae is responsible for the alterations to the hand and foot bones. The bone changes of the skull represent the direct effects of M. leprae being inhaled into the mouth and nose. Beyond visual/macroscopic analysis, imaging and microscopy have been used for diagnosis. Biomolecular analysis is the main advance in analytical methods (mainly focusing on ancient DNA). Sequencing of the modern M. leprae and M. lepromatosis genomes have provided data for comparative analyses and testable hypotheses regarding the origin, evolution, and history of leprosy. These data are enabling paleogeneticists, historians, and bioarchaeologists to re-evaluate the long history of leprosy in relation to historical accounts of the drivers for the migration of people with leprosy across the globe.

Keywords:   paleopathology, immune system, lepromatous leprosy, biomolecular analysis, ancient DNA

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