Author(s): Gmez i Prat J, de Souza SM
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Abstract 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 occurred 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.
This article was published in Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz
and referenced in Journal of Antivirals & Antiretrovirals