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Scientists Recover Oldest Virus Genome of HBV

For the study, appearing in the journal eLife, the team analysed samples from the teeth of 53 skeletons excavated from Neolithic and medieval sites in Germany.

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Scientists have recovered oldest viral genomes of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and found that the deadly virus has been circulating in Europe for at least 7,000 years.
Virus, Representative Image- Pixabay

Scientists have recovered oldest viral genomes of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and found that the deadly virus has been circulating in Europe for at least 7,000 years.

HBV — one of the most widespread human pathogens — is responsible for the contagious liver disease. Today, it infects approximately 350 million people worldwide and kills more than 600,000 people a year.

However, its origin and evolutionary history remain unclear.

In the study, the researchers not only recovered ancient viral DNA from skeletons but also reconstructed the genomes of three strains of HBV.

While the ancient virus is similar to its modern counterparts, the strains represent a distinct lineage that has likely gone extinct.

It is also more closely related to chimpanzee and gorilla viruses, the findings showed.

“Our results demonstrate that HBV already existed in Europeans 7,000 years ago and that its genomic structure closely resembled that of modern hepatitis B viruses, despite the differences observed,” said lead author Ben Krause-Kyora, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Kiel University.

“More ancient precursors, intermediates and modern strains of both human and non-human primate HBV strains need to be sequenced to disentangle the complex evolution of this virus,” he added.

Scientists have recovered oldest viral genomes of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and found that the deadly virus has been circulating in Europe for at least 7,000 years.
Scientist recover oldest viral genomes of HBV, Pixabay

For the study, appearing in the journal eLife, the team analysed samples from the teeth of 53 skeletons excavated from Neolithic and medieval sites in Germany.

The remains dated from around 5000 BC to 1200 AD. The researchers screened all samples for viral pathogens and detected ancient HBV in three of the individuals.

Full HBV genomes were recovered from these samples, two of which were from the Neolithic period, dating to about 7,000 and 5,000 years ago, and one from the medieval period. The Neolithic genomes represent the by far oldest virus genomes reconstructed to date.

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Interestingly, the ancient virus genomes appear to represent distinct lineages that have no close relatives today and possibly went extinct.

The two Neolithic genomes, although recovered from individuals that lived 2,000 years apart, were relatively similar to each other in comparison with modern strains, and were in fact more closely related to modern strains of HBV found in Chimpanzees and Gorillas.

In contrast, the medieval HBV genome is more similar to modern strains, but still represents a separate lineage, the researchers said. (IANS)

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Reported Cases of Sexually Transmitted Disease Up by 70% in Europe Since 2010

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem

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sexually transmitted disease
A nurse takes blood from a man for a free HIV test on a bus in Tehran, Dec. 16, 2015. VOA

Syphilis cases have soared in Europe over the last decade and become, for the first time since the early 2000s, more common in some countries than new cases of HIV, health experts said Friday.

Reported cases of the sexually transmitted disease are up by 70% since 2010, a report from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed, with the rise driven by more unprotected sex and riskier sexual behavior among gay men.

“The increases in syphilis infections that we see across Europe … are a result of several factors, such as people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners, combined with a reduced fear of acquiring HIV,” said Andrew Amato-Gauci, an ECDC expert on sexually transmitted infections.

The European report comes after the World Health Organization said last month that around a million people each day worldwide catch a sexually transmitted infection.

sexually transmitted disease
FILE – A billboard above a gas station, April 1, 2016, promotes testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The number of cases of STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – in California reached a record high in 2017. VOA

Left untreated, syphilis can have severe complications in men and women, including causing stillbirths and newborn deaths and increasing the risk of HIV. Syphilis was one of the leading causes of baby loss globally in 2016.

The Stockholm-based ECDC, which monitors health and disease in Europe, said that overall, more than 260,000 syphilis cases were reported from 30 countries from 2007 to 2017.

In 2017, syphilis rates reached an all-time high with more than 33,000 reported cases, the ECDC said. This meant that for the first time since the early 2000s, the region reported more cases of syphilis than new cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

But the problem varied significantly by country, with rates more than doubling in five countries — Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta — but dropping by 50% or more in Estonia and Romania.

sexually transmitted disease
Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. Pixabay

Close to two-thirds of the cases reported between 2007 and 2017 where sexual orientation was known were in men who have sex with men, the ECDC report said, while heterosexual men contributed 23% of cases and women 15%.

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The proportion of cases diagnosed among men who have sex with men ranged from less than 20% in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania to more than 80% in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain.

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. “To reverse this trend, we need to encourage people to use condoms consistently with new and casual partners,” he said. (VOA)