Thursday, December 12, 2013

Digitized diseases

Diseases which we thought we had conquered are rearing their ugly heads. This includes polio, which is currently spreading in Syria. Martha Ann Lillard of Oklahoma offers herself up as a living reminder that an outbreak of polio anywhere in the world is a danger everywhere. Paralyzed at the age of 5 in 1953, she has survived ever since in an iron lung. If that's not scary enough, there is now an online resource that shows what happens when diseases are left unchecked. The 1,600 historical specimens of formerly incurable or untreatable diseases – including syphilis, rickets, and leprosy – have been digitized by the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The Digitized Diseases database is intended for archaeologists, interested laypersons, and medical clinicians who do not see such advanced cases in their practices. Andrew Wilson of the University of Bradford, who served as lead researcher on the project, notes, "If the vivid evidence of these bones flags up the importance of taking these conditions very seriously and tackling them early, so much the better."

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