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Volume 20, Number 2—February 2014

Poxvirus Viability and Signatures in Historical Relics

Andrea M. McCollumComments to Author , Yu Li, Kimberly Wilkins, Kevin L. Karem, Whitni B. Davidson, Christopher D. Paddock, Mary G. Reynolds, and Inger K. Damon
Author affiliations: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Main Article

Table 2

Historical artifacts tested for variola virus and other viruses

Location, date of origination, description of the artifact (date discovered) Laboratory testing*
Live virus isolated Evidence by electron microscopy Viral DNA isolated Human DNA isolated Other testing
Egypt, 1157 bce, mummy of Ramses V with lesions; lesions were present in a centrifugal distribution and had an appearance similar to smallpox (1898, 1979) No (2) No (2) No† No† Viral particles and faint immunologic reactivity with variola antibody; negative radioimmunoassay result for smallpox (23)
Egypt, 1200–1100 bce, piece of skin from male mummy with a typical smallpox rash (1911) Portion of skin did not show definite pathologic characteristics of smallpox (24)
Italy, sixteenth century, corpse exhumed from a crypt; lesions were umbilicated, monomorphic, and in a centrifugal distribution (1986) No (25) Yes (25,26) No, by molecular hybridization (29); no, by DNA isolation and real-time PCR† No† Orthopoxvirus antigens not detected by hemagglutination or enzyme immunoassay (25)
Canada, 1640–1650, bones from an adult man located in a burial plot on Native American land; the tribe was known to have had a smallpox epidemic in 1634 (1966) Bone analysis result was consistent with osteomyelitis variolosa (27)
Russia, late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, corpses exhumed from permafrost; 1 grave had multiple bodies and evidence suggested quick postmortem burial; samples were analyzed from 1 corpse (2004) Yes, variola virus–related DNA (28)
England, 1729–1856, piece of skin with lesions attached to a skeleton exhumed from a crypt (1985) No (29) No† No†
Russia, nineteenth century, corpses in permafrost recovered during flooding; corpses were from an area of a smallpox outbreak in the nineteenth century (1991) No (30)
Kentucky, USA, 1840–1860, mummified remains of a body with lesions discovered at a construction site (2000) No† No†*
New York, New York, USA, City, mid-1800s, mummified remains of a body with lesions contained within an iron coffin discovered at a construction site (2011) No† No† No† Yes, from a tooth†
Virginia, USA, 1876, scab from the arm of an infant to be used for community vaccination; found in letter sent from son to father in Virginia; scab was on display at a museum (2011) No† Yes, non-variola Orthopoxvirus DNA† Yes†
New Mexico, USA, late nineteenth century, scabs from vaccination sites contained in an envelope, which was contained within a book (2003) No† Yes, non-variola Orthopoxvirus DNA† No†
Arkansas, USA, 1871–1926, suspected smallpox scabs on display at a museum (2004) No† No† No†

*Published laboratory results are accompanied by the reference (number in parentheses).
†Previously unpublished results.

Main Article

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Main Article

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