The romantic kiss from the Orient could spread cold sores in Europe

The virus strain that causes herpes of the face and lips as we know it emerged around 5,000 years ago and, according to a new study, the further spread of this infection in Europe may have coincided with the arrival of a new cultural practice imported from the East: romantic and sexual kisses.

The results of the research conducted by the University of Cambridge are published in the journal Science Advances and the researchers succeeded in first discovering ancient genomes of the herpes virus (HSV 1) and then sequencing them for the first time .

The authors point out that the latest research suggests that the strain of the HSV-1 virus that causes facial herpes as we know it today emerged around 5,000 years ago. It is possible that the increase in transmissions allowed this one to prevail over all the others.

millions of years

However, describes a statement from the aforementioned university, herpes has a history that dates back millions of years, and forms of the virus infect species ranging from bats to corals.

“The world has seen COVID-19 mutate at a rapid rate for weeks and months. A virus like herpes evolves on a much longer time scale,” says study co-author Charlotte Houldcroft, member of the Cambridge Genetics Department. .

Facial herpes hides in its host for life and is only transmitted by direct contact, so mutations occur slowly over centuries and millennia.

“We need to do extensive research over time to understand how DNA viruses like this evolve,” says the researcher, adding that “Previously, genetic data on herpes only goes back to 1925.”

However, despite its current prevalence, ancient examples of HSV-1 were surprisingly hard to find.

3,000 archaeological finds

Tras examine muestras de ADN antiguas de unos 3.000 archeological hallazgos, the team consiguió localizar el herpes en los restos de cuatro individuos a lo largo de un período de mil años (del siglo VII al XVII), y extract el ADN viral de las raíces de the teeth.

Herpes, detail the authors, is generally manifested by oral infections: at least two of the former corpses suffered from gum disease and a third smoked tobacco.

By comparing ancient DNA with herpes samples from the 20th century, the team was able to analyze the differences and estimate a mutation rate and therefore a timeline for the evolution of the virus.

“All primate species have some form of herpes, so we assume it’s been around since our own species left Africa,” says Christiana Scheib, another of the authors.

“However, something happened about five thousand years ago that allowed one strain to overtake all others, possibly an increase in transmissions that could have been linked to kissing“.

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The researchers note that the earliest known record of kissing is a Bronze Age manuscript from South Asia, suggesting that the custom – which was far from universal in human cultures – may have traveled to the west with migrations to Europe from Eurasia.

In fact, centuries later, Roman Emperor Tiberius tried to ban kissing at official events to prevent the spread of disease, an order that could be linked to herpes, they point out.

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