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Oldest ever human virus discovered on 4,500-year old Bronze Age Skeleton

Researchers have discovered what they believe to be the oldest human virus which was found residing in the remains of a 4,500-year old skeleton.

An extinct strain of hepatitis B (HBV) has been discovered in skeletal remains from the Bronze Age which scientists say is the oldest evidence of a human virus.

The virus would have eventually killed its host with lethal liver disease in a similar way to how modern hepatitis B works.

British scientists made the “truly remarkable” discovery in 25 of 300 skeletal remains found in central and western Eurasia.

The previously oldest detected human disease was just 450-years old – with the new discovery being 4,500-years old, the researchers say that the finding is similar to discovering the first fossils.
Dr Terry Jones, from Cambridge University, joint first author of the study, said: "Scientists mostly study modern virus strains and we have mainly been in the dark regarding ancient sequences - until now. It was like trying to study evolution without fossils.

"If we only studied the animals living today it would give us a very inaccurate picture of their evolution. It is the same with viruses.”

Co-lead author Barbara Muhlemann, a Cambridge PhD student, said of the research published in the journal Nature: "People have tried to unravel the history of HBV for decades. This study transforms our understanding of the virus and proves it affected people as far back as the Bronze Age.

"We have also shown that it is possible to recover viral sequences from samples of this age which will have much wider scientific implications.”

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus that's spread through blood and body fluids and often doesn't cause any obvious symptoms in adults who recover in months.

According to the British Liver Trust, approximately 180,000 people are thought to be infected with hepatitis B. (Express UK)

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