(CNN)Scientists studying ancient disease have uncovered one of the earliest examples of spillover -- when a disease jumps from an animal to a human -- and it happened to a Neanderthal man who likely got sick butchering or cooking raw meat.
Ancient case of disease spillover discovered in Neanderthal man who got sick butchering raw meat
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Researchers were reexamining the fossilized bones of a Neanderthal who was found in a cave near the French village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints in 1908. The "Old Man of La Chapelle," as he became known, was the first relatively complete Neanderthal skeleton to be unearthed and is one of the best studied.
More than a century after his discovery, his bones are still yielding new information about the lives of Neanderthals, the heavily built Stone Age hominins that lived in Europe and parts of Asia before disappearing about 40,000 years ago.
The man, thought to be in his late 50s or 60s when he died about 50,000 years ago, had advanced osteoarthritis in his spinal column and hip joint, a study from 2019 had confirmed.
However, during that reanalysis, Dr. Martin Haeusler -- a specialist in internal medicine and head of the University of Zurich's Evolutionary Morphology and Adaptation Group at the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine -- realized that not all the changes in the bones could be explained by the wear and tear of osteoarthritis.
"Rather, we found that some of these pathological changes must be due to inflammatory processes," he said.
"A comparison of the entire pattern of the pathological changes found in the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton with many different diseases led us then to the diagnosis of brucellosis."
The study with those findings was published in the journal Scientific Reports last month.
Brucellosis is a disease that's still widespread today. Humans generally acquire the disease through direct contact with infected animals, by eating or drinking contaminated animal products, or by inhaling airborne agents, according to the World Health Organization. Most cases are caused by unpasteurized milk or cheese from infected goats or sheep.
It's also one of the most common zoonotic diseases -- illnesses that are transmitted from animals to humans. They include viruses like HIV and the coronavirus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.