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Research refutes connection between Black Death and resistance to the HIV - Glasgow University

Health News from Scotland

New research at Glasgow University casts doubt over the supposed link between the Black Death and a resistance to the HIV virus found in some Europeans.

Professors Sam Cohn (Medieval History) and Lawrence Weaver (Developmental Medicine), writing in the latest issue of Quarterly Journal of Medicine, reveal what they describes as the ‘absurdity’ of the theory that the Black Death was the trigger of an HIV-resistant gene. The findings are especially unequivocal if, as the scientists who have previously claimed a connection assume, the subtropical disease, Yersinia pestis was the Black Death's agent.

Black Death and AIDS are global pandemics that have captured the popular imagination, both attracting extravagant hypotheses to account for their origins and geographical distributions. Medical scientists have recently attempted to connect these two great pandemics. But the geography of the Black Death and the distribution of the HIV-resistant gene hardly match,”
explained Professor Sam Cohn.

The Black Death was not limited to Europe, but instead originated outside of it and was probably even more devastating in non-European places such as the Middle East and southern Asia.
_ In addition, the geographical gradient of the Black Death and its subsequent strikes through the Early Modern Period flowed in the very opposite direction from rates of the HIV-resistant gene now seen in European descendents: while this gene is most prevalent in the far north of Europe and almost absent in southern Greece and Italy, the Black Death scored its highest mortalities in the southern Mediterranean and failed to reach the Highlands of Scotland or Finland until the early modern period.

In the 1990s, geneticists and other health scientists speculated that the catastrophic Black Death of 1348 set in motion a genetic change that bestowed a resistance to HIV-1 on some Europeans but to no others across the world. Some scientists over the past decade have continued to repeat this spectacular connection in scientific journals, and periodically the claims have appeared in the serious press as scientific fact.

Professors Sam Cohn and Lawrence Weaver’s findings, refuting the connection between the Black Death and resistance to HIV, demonstrate the value of collaborative work between scientists and historians.



Source: Glasgow University (Scotland).

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