High Throughput, Multiplexed Pathogen Detection Authenticates Plague Waves in Medieval Venice, Italy
By Thi-Nguyen-Ny Tran, Michel Signoli, Luigi Fozzati, Gérard Aboudharam, Didier Raoult and Michel Drancourt
PLoS ONE, Vol. 6:3 (2011)
Introduction: The history of Venice, Italy is tightly linked to the ancient plague and particularly to the Second Pandemic, which originated in Europe with the Black Death in the mid-14th century. The commercial activity of the Venetian Republic facilitated trade and interactions with the Southern and Oriental regions of the Mediterranean Sea, where the plague was endemic. Starting in 1348, Venice suffered several plague epidemics, most notably the Black Death. Historical records indicate that a massive epidemic swept through the city during the 14th century, which is thought to have killed thousands of people and profoundly affected the history of this prosperous city. Following the initial wave, additional and more detrimental epidemics occurred in 1462, 1485, 1506, 1575–1577 and 1630–1632. In Venice, the number of deaths was first recorded during the 1575–1577 epidemic, with a mortality rate of 27.8%; the 1630–1632 epidemic had a mortality rate of 32.5% of the Venetian population.
The cause of these disasters is a matter of debate, and it has not been universally agreed upon that these epidemics were due to Yersinia pestis. Alternative hypotheses including influenza, anthrax and hemorrhagic fever have been proposed. Using suicide PCR and a recently developed multiplex molecular approach to identify pathogens in ancient human remains, we demonstrate here that the Venetian epidemics were indeed plague outbreaks caused by the bacterial species Y. pestis.