Viruses in the Ancient World

              Sir Peter Medawar

The British biologist Sir Peter Medawar (1915–1987) described a virus as “a piece of bad news wrapped in a protein coat”.

Communicable diseases like the flu, HIV, the common cold and herpes are all contagious viruses. Noncommunicable infectious diseases are Lyme disease, cancer, asthma, cardiovascular and diabetes. Contagious diseases caused by viruses or bacteria have been around a long time.

Bacterial communicable diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis were discovered in 1989 in a first-century tomb, The Tomb of the Shroud, at Akeldama in Jerusalem. A shrouded man was inside the cave tomb. Upon examination, his bones had pathogens of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae, the latter (leprosy) was the earliest case of leprosy with a confirmed date in which M. leprae DNA was detected. Moses (c.1500 BC) wrote extensively in Leviticus about leprosy, so it was active in an even more ancient world (c. 1500 BC). [SEE: Leviticus 13 & 14]

                                               Akeldama/aka Aceldama, Aramaic for “Field of Blood”

The Gospel of Matthew connects that Field of Blood to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver:

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” Matthew 27:3–8

Ancient Egypt has yielded some proofs that the virus which causes polio (polio virus) was around in their land thousands of years ago.

Smallpox is caused by the variola virus. It appears in the examination of the bones of ancient Egyptian people. Viruses have no preference for men or women or children or of one’s wealth or poverty. A virus is egalitarian.

 Egyptian stele depicts poliovirus victim            Pharaoh Rameses V shows evidence of smallpox

Even the New World, the Americas, had viral diseases similar to the Old World. Smallpox and measles from the rubeola virus have been found depicted in Aztec drawings (between c. 1345 and 1521 AD).

                Sixteenth-century Aztec drawings of victims of smallpox (left) and measles (right)

In 2019 and into 2020 another “flu season” came upon us. The name “influenza” originated in the 15th century in Italy, from an epidemic attributed to the “influence of the stars” which raged across Europe and perhaps in Asia and Africa—and later finally broke ocean barriers and came to America as the Spanish Flu during 1917-1918. No one knew where it came from or how to deal with it. This flu which decimated our continent was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian (bird) origin—glycoproteins Haemagglutin and Neuraminidase. In 2009 America again got the Swine Flu, an H1N1 virus which resulted in 12,469 deaths.

SARS and MERS and COVID-(2019) are ALL three corona viruses so-named because of their “corona” meaning “wreath/crown” in Latin.

                                                                      Image of a corona virus

Lots of people get a flu vaccine every year. Most flu vaccines in the United States protect against four different flu viruses (“quadrivalent”); an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses. When one gets a “flu shot,” flu viruses are injected into that person. The idea is: one has to get the flu into one’s system in order NOT to get the flu.

The English physician Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is the genius who discovered this principle when he saw milkmaids who worked with cows who had cowpox on their udders and got that cow disease did not get human smallpox.

                        Dr. Edward Jenner vaccinating a child

Jenner scratched some cow pox into the skin of an 8-year-old boy. He got a blister and recovered. Then Jenner injected him with human smallpox matter. Jenner saw he was immune then to human smallpox. He is the father of all vaccines developed to make one immune to diseases like polio, typhus, yellow fever, etc. “Vaccine” and “vaccination” both come from Jenner’s denotation of cowpox, Variola vaccine.—Sandra Sweeny Silver