Re-emerging infectious diseases from the past: Hysteria or real risk?



      Work on human remains and old biological samples is a potential source of contamination by conventional or atypical infectious agents. Similarly, current and future environmental changes are a source of resurgence of ancient epidemic diseases. To what extent are anthropologists sorcerer apprentices (especially those working on ancient samples, i.e. paleo-anthropologists)? Are ancient skeletons, palaeosols and museum objects with a biological component at risk for current populations? Unless there are unfounded fears and undue risk… What can be learned from the recent scientific literature and the common sense of the researchers?


      We have attempted to compile data from the literature and from our personal experience in the fields of anthropology, clinical medicine and epidemiology, in order to grasp the reality of the risk to the human population.


      It appears that the risk is real, but extremely limited. Specific and simple protective measures must be taken in terms of overall and individual health, both in the field and in the laboratory.


      These data are important for the internist, due to the possibility of atypical infections, both in specialized workers and in populations at risk (environmental context).


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