February 22, 2018  

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Student’s Research Examines One of the Earliest New World Cases of Tuberculosis

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University of Southern Mississippi student Christopher Brady Davis of Nashville, Tenn., has been awarded $250 and a selection of books by the Paleopathology Association for his research of the first documented incident of tuberculosis (TB) in Mississippi and one of the oldest in North America.

Davis won for best student poster at the annual international meetings of the Paleopathology Association held in Minneapolis April 12-13. His research titled, “A Reassessment of a Proposed Possible Case of Congenital Syphilis from the Mississippi Delta,” argued that the juvenile he analyzed actually exhibited skeletal evidence of tuberculosis. 

“Brady’s work is significant since it helps us understand the relationship between sociopolitical complexity and the rise of TB in the New World,” notes Dr. Marie Danforth, professor of Anthropology at Southern Miss. “A number of cases of the disease have been found to date after 1000 AD when chiefdoms began to emerge. This case is only one of about a half-dozen that has been identified as older than that, and therefore each one is critical to helping us piece together the puzzle.”

Statistics provided by the World Health Organization indicate that one-third of the world’s population is currently infected with the TB bacillus. An estimated 1.7 million people died from TB in 2009 with the highest number of deaths reported in the Africa Region.

Davis’ research was judged in competition with submissions from a number of major doctoral programs, including Emory University, Arizona State University and Indiana University.

“I chose to take on this project because I am very intrigued with how disease affects our body especially the skeletal system and this specific case presented a unique challenge considering the distribution of lesions and the little bioarchaeological data that has been generated from the Mississippi Delta,” said Davis.

The Paleopathology Association is an organization composed of researchers, scientists and students from many fields including physical anthropology, medicine, archaeology and Egyptology from around the world. The association was formed in 1973 by U.S. and Canadian scientists who believed that human skeletal and mummified remains can yield tremendous information about the past. Currently, it has members from more than 35 nations.