Prehistoric Tuberculosis in America: Adding Comments to a Literature Review|
Jordi Gómez i Prat & Sheila MF Mendonça de Souza
Tuberculosis is a prehistoric American human disease. This paper reviews the literature
and discusses hypotheses for origins and epidemiological patterns of prehistoric
tuberculosis. From the last decades, 24 papers about prehistoric tuberculosis
were published and 133 cases were reviewed. In South America most are isolated
case studies, contrary to North America where more skeletal series were analyzed.
Disease was usually located at the deserts of Chile and Peru, Central Plains in
USA, and Lake Ontario in Canada. Skeletal remains represent most of the cases,
but 16 mummies have also been described. Thirty individuals had lung disease,
19 of them diagnosed by the ribs. More then 100 individuals had osseous tuberculosis
and 26 also had it in other organs. As today, transmission of the infection and
establishment of the disease were favored by cultural and life-style changes such
as sedentarization, crowding, undernutrition, use of dark and insulated houses,
and by the frequency of interpersonal contacts. The papers confirm that despite
previous perceptions, tuberculosis seems to have occured in America for millennia.
It only had epidemiological expression when special conditions favored its expansion.
Occurring as epidemic bursts or low endemic disease, it had differential impact
on groups or social segments in America for at least two millennia.
tuberculosis - paleoepidemiology - prehistory - mummies - South America - North America