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Pompeii Pus or Vesuvius Virus?

A tiny piece of cheese, just two inches in diameter, offers proof that Romans contracted a rare form of bone disease from dairy products more than two thousand years ago...

During the middle of a summer night in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and all life in Herculaneum and Pompeii was buried under lava, ash, and mud.

Some 250 people fled to the beach in hopes of escape, but ocean waters boiled, and mudslides covered and preserved their bodies. The intense heat and then rapid cooling of 100 foot-deep debris resulted in remarkable preservation of skeletons and internal organs.

A small wedge of carbonized cheese was also found, and that piece of concentrated dairy is revealing secrets as to how ancient Romans ate, lived, and died. The cheese contained the presence of bacteria resembling modern day brucella. The cheese was so well preserved that portions of the original stamp and outer cloth covering still remained.

Many of Pompeii's secrets lay buried for more than 1500 years. Like unopened gems within geodes, a good many of those secrets waited until 21st century forensic science yielded new understanding of Roman life.

Research on the preserved Pompeei bodies demonstrates that nearly one out of five adults buried and preserved by Mount Vesuvius lave had bone lesions typical of brucellosis infection. Brucellosis is a bacteria commonly passed to humans in cow's milk or cheese. Two thousand years ago, people ate dairy products made from sheep and goat's milk. Brucellosis can result in debilitating joint and bone disease.

Things have not changed all that much over 2,000 years. This past summer, brucellosis was detected in a dairy herd in Idaho. Six cows tested positive.

Brucellosis in cattle can be passed on to man in the form of Mediterranean disease or undulant fever. This disease is difficult to detect, and easily misdiagnosed. The symptoms include chronic fatigue (syndrome), headaches, and arthritic pain. Once infected with brucellosis from cows, the disease can hide in the human body, emerging many years after the initial infection.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) actually has a brucellosis program, and a set of standards. Under government regulations, states are allowed to identify infected herds, and retain their "Brucellosis Class Free designations." Ask yourself, who is being protected by USDA's policy?

Robert Cohen

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