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Keywords:

  • Yersinia pestis;
  • F1 antigen detection;
  • mass burials

Abstract

A rapid diagnostic test (RDT) that detects Yersinia pestis F1 antigen was applied to 28 putative plague victims exhumed from seven burial sites in southeastern France dating to the 16th–18th centuries. Yersinia pestis F1 antigen was detected in 19 of the 28 (67.9%) samples. The 27 samples used as negative controls yielded negative results. Soil samples taken from archeological sites related to both positive and negative samples tested negative for F1 antigen. The detection threshold of the RDT for plague (0.5 ng/ml) is sufficient for a preliminary retrospective diagnosis of Y. pestis infection in human remains. The high specificity and sensitivity of the assay were confirmed. For two sites positive to F1 antigen (Lambesc and Marseille), Y. pestis-specific DNA (pla gene) had been identified previously by PCR-sequence based analyses. Specifically, the positive results for two samples, from the Lambesc cemetery and the Marseille pit burial, matched those previously reported using PCR. Independent analyses in Italy and France of different samples taken from the same burial sites (Draguignan and Martigues) led to the identification of both Y. pestis F1 antigen and Y. pestis pla and gplD genes. These data are clear evidence of the presence of Y. pestis in the ancient human remains examined in this study. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.