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(CNN)Scientists studying ancient disease have uncovered one of the earliest examples of spillover -- when a disease jumps from an animal to a human -- and it happened to a Neanderthal man who likely got sick butchering or cooking raw meat.
Researchers were reexamining the fossilized bones of a Neanderthal who was found in a cave near the French village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints in 1908.
The "Old Man of La Chapelle," as he became known, was the first relatively complete Neanderthal skeleton to be unearthed and is one of the best studied. More than a century after his discovery, his bones are still yielding new information about the lives of Neanderthals, the heavily built Stone Age hominins that
lived in Europe and parts of Asia before disappearing about 40,000 years
The man, thought to be in his
late 50s or 60s when he died about 50,000 years ago, had advanced osteoarthritis in his spinal column and hip joint, a study from 2019 had confirmed.
However, during that reanalysis, Dr. Martin Haeusler -- a specialist in internal medicine and head of the University of Zurich's Evolutionary Morphology and Adaptation Group at the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine -- realized that not all the changes in the bones could be explained by the wear and tear of osteoarthritis. Read More"Rather, we found that some of these pathological changes must be due to inflammatory processes," he said. "A comparison of the entire pattern of the pathological changes found in the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton with many different diseases led us then to the diagnosis of brucellosis."The study with those findings was published in the journal Scientific Reports last month. Zoonotic disease
Cave chamber closed for 40,000 years could hold the key to the lives of NeanderthalsBrucellosis is a disease that's still widespread today. Humans generally acquire the disease through direct contact with infected animals, by eating or drinking contaminated animal products, or by inhaling airborne agents, according to the World Health Organization. Most cases are caused by unpasteurized milk or cheese from infected goats or sheep.It's also one of the most common zoonotic diseases -- illnesses that are transmitted from animals
to humans. They include viruses like HIV and the coronavirus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic. Brucella has a wide range of symptoms, including fever, muscular pain and night sweats, Haeusler said. It can last from a few weeks to many months or even years. Long-term problems resulting from the disease are variable but can include arthritis pain, back pain, inflammation of the testes -- which can lead to infertility -- and inflammation of the heart valves known as endocarditis, which Haeusler said was the most common cause of death from the disease. The paper said the case was "the earliest secure evidence of this zoonotic disease in hominin evolution."The disease has also been found in Bronze Age Homo sapiens skeletons, which date back to around 5,000 years ago.DietBrucellosis is found in many wild animals today, and Haeusler said that the Neanderthal man likely caught the disease from butchering or cooking an animal that had been hunted as prey.
Possible sources include wild sheep, goats, wild cattle, bison, reindeer, hares and marmots -- all of which were components of the Neanderthal diet. However, the paper said that the two large animals Neanderthals hunted, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros, were unlikely to be the disease reservoir -- at least based on the animals' living relatives, in which brucellosis has been largely undetected.Given the man lived to what must have been a very old age for the period, Haeusler suspected that the Neanderthal
may have had a milder version of the disease.
A tiny bone is changing how we think about NeanderthalsThe "Old Man of Chapelle" played a significant role in misconceptions about Neanderthals being primitive Stone Age brutes, according to the Smithsonian. More recent research suggests that they were just as smart as we are.
An early reconstruction of the skeleton depicted the man with a slouching posture, bent knees and the head jutted forward. It was only later that scientists realized the skeleton had a deforming kind of osteoarthritis and perhaps was not a typical Neanderthal. Haeusler said the study he published in 2019 showed that, even with the wear and tear from degenerative osteoarthritis, the "Old Man of Chapelle" would have walked upright. The man also had lost most of his teeth and may have had to have been fed by other members of his group.
News Source: CNN
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Australia reports 3rd case of omicron COVID-19 variant
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.
A South African man in his 30s who flew from Johannesburg to the northern Australian city of Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travelers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first omicron cases. Both were fully vaccinated, showed no symptoms and were in quarantine in Sydney.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third omicron case in Australia’s most populous state.
In the 24 hours since Sunday, 141 passengers on five flights arrived from the nine countries affected by the omicron variant, officials said. All the travelers were in quarantine.
Senior federal government ministers are meeting Monday to consider the national response, including whether to alter plans to relax border restrictions starting Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian authorities “will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more” action is required.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that starting Wednesday, vaccinated students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without quarantining.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea with certain Australian visas would also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas, the government said last week.
Morrison on Monday urged a calm response to omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated a variant of concern.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it’s suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated,” Morrison told Nine Network television.
“Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It’s about whether people are getting a worse illness or it’s going to put stress on your hospital system,” Morrison said.
New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, as well as the national capital Canberra have introduced a blanket 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international arrivals.
Hunt announced on Saturday that because of the concerns about omicron, non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
Australians will be allowed in but must quarantine for 14 days.
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