Did Roman Empire “Spread” HIV Threat?

A claim by French researchers published at the New Scientist raised questions about a possibility that the threat of HIV started even during ancient times.  According to the report by researchers at the University of Provence, people living in former colonies of the Roman Empire are less likely to have a gene variant that protects against HIV, leaving them more vulnerable to the disease.

The report presented that the people living in countries that used to be in the borders of the empire for longer periods such as Spain, Italy, and Greece, have their frequency of the CCR5-delta32 gene from 0% to 6%.  CCR5-delta32 offers some protection against HIV.

Meanwhile, people from countries that were at the fringe of the empire, such as Germany and modern-day England, have CCR5-delta32 frequency rates between 8% and 11.8%.  The countries that were never conquered by Rome have higher rates than such.

However, the researches do not conclude that the genetic difference is caused by inter-colony breeding between the Romans and the local population.  Instead, they suggest that the Romans may have introduced an unknown disease to which people with CCR5-delta32 variant were particularly susceptible.

Others argue that the difference could be linked to a far larger event, such as the spread of pandemic diseases like bubonic plague or smallpox, and that these infections may have increased rather than decreasing the frequency of the variant.

In another report made by researchers at the University of Liverpool, they suggest that the variant may have protected many early Europeans against widespread infections at the time such as the Black Death, which swept the continent on a regular basis during and after the Roman era.  They added that these illnesses may have been lethal to people without the gene variant, raising its frequency from one in 20,000 people to about 10% in Northern Europe.

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