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Mycobacterium leprae genomes from a British medieval leprosy hospital: towards understanding an ancient epidemic

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  • Tom A Mendum
  • Verena J Schuenemann
  • Simon Roffey
  • G Michael Taylor
  • Huihai Wu
  • Pushpendra Singh
  • Katie Tucker
  • Jason Hinds
  • Stewart T Cole
  • Andrzej M Kierzek
  • Kay Nieselt
  • Johannes Krause
  • Graham R Stewart

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    Rights statement: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Original languageEnglish
Article number270
JournalBMC Genomics
Volume15
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Abstract

Leprosy has afflicted humankind throughout history leaving evidence in both early texts and the archaeological record. In Britain, leprosy was widespread throughout the Middle Ages until its gradual and unexplained decline between the 14th and 16th centuries. The nature of this ancient endemic leprosy and its relationship to modern strains is only partly understood. Modern leprosy strains are currently divided into 5 phylogenetic groups, types 0 to 4, each with strong geographical links. Until recently, European strains, both ancient and modern, were thought to be exclusively type 3 strains. However, evidence for type 2 strains, a group normally associated with Central Asia and the Middle East, has recently been found in archaeological samples in Scandinavia and from two skeletons from the medieval leprosy hospital (or leprosarium) of St Mary Magdalen, near Winchester, England.

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