On the trail of pulmonary tuberculosis based on rib lesions: Results from the human identified skeletal collection from the Museu Bocage (Lisbon, Portugal)



In the last 20 years, studies on human identified skeletal collections have revealed a significant relationship between new bone formation on the visceral surface of ribs and pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). To improve methods of differential diagnosis of respiratory diseases in archaeological skeletons, an investigation was conducted on 197 individuals from the Human Identified Skeletal Collection of the Museu Bocage (Lisbon, Portugal). This sample included 109 males and 88 females who lived during the 19th–20th centuries, with ages at death ranging from 13–88 years. The skeletons were grouped according to cause of death: 1) pulmonary TB (N = 84); 2) pulmonary non-TB diseases (N = 49); and 3) a control group (N = 64) composed of individuals randomly selected among the extrapulmonary non-TB causes of death. The ribs, sterna, scapulae, and clavicles were macroscopically observed. New bone formation on the visceral surface of ribs was recorded in 90.5% (76/84) of individuals who died from pulmonary TB, in 36.7% (18/49) with a pulmonary non-TB disease as cause of death, and in 25.0% (16/64) of the control group. These differences were statistically significant (P < 0.001). Furthermore, in individuals with pulmonary TB, the bony lesions presented mainly as lamellar bone on the vertebral end of the upper and middle thoracic rib cage. Proliferative alterations also occurred on one sternum and in nine clavicles and eight scapulae. This work strongly supports the results of similar studies performed on other documented collections, suggesting that new bone formation on ribs, although not pathognomonic, is a useful criterion for the differential diagnosis of pulmonary TB. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.