By Robert Cohen Executive Director Text Only

Long dead citizens of Pompeii

Pompeii Pus

Pompeii Pus or Vesuvius Virus?

A tiny piece of cheese, just two inches in diameter, offers
proof that Romans contracted a rare form of bone disease
from dairy products more than two thousand years ago...

During the middle of a summer night in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius
erupted and all life in Herculaneum and Pompeii was buried
under lava, ash, and mud.

Some 250 people fled to the beach in hopes of escape, but
ocean waters boiled, and mudslides covered and preserved
their bodies. The intense heat and then rapid cooling of 100
foot-deep debris resulted in remarkable preservation of
skeletons and internal organs.

A small wedge of carbonized cheese was also found, and that
piece of concentrated dairy is revealing secrets as to how
ancient Romans ate, lived, and died. The cheese contained
the presence of bacteria resembling modern day brucella. The
cheese was so well preserved that portions of the original
stamp and outer cloth covering still remained.

Many of Pompeii's secrets lay buried for more than 1500
years. Like unopened gems within geodes, a good many of
those secrets waited until 21st century forensic science
yielded new understanding of Roman life.

A study published in the August, 2000 edition of The Journal
Of Infection (p 122-127, Volume 45, Number 2) reveals that
nearly one out of five adults had bone lesions typical of
brucellosis infection. Brucellosis is a bacteria commonly
passed to humans in cow's milk or cheese. Two thousand years
ago, people ate dairy products made from sheep and goat's
milk. Brucellosis can result in debilitating joint and bone

Things have not changed all that much over 2,000 years. This
past summer, brucellosis was detected in a dairy herd in
Idaho. Six cows tested positive.

Brucellosis in cattle can be passed on to man in the form of
Mediterranean disease or undulant fever. This disease is
difficult to detect, and easily misdiagnosed. The symptoms
include chronic fatigue (syndrome), headaches, and arthritic
pain. Once infected with brucellosis from cows, the disease
can hide in the human body, emerging many years after the
initial infection.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) actually
has a brucellosis program, and a set of standards. Under
government regulations, states are allowed to identify
infected herds, and retain their "Brucellosis Class Free
designations." Ask yourself, who is being protected by
USDA's policy?
The long dead village of Pompeii

Robert Cohen, author of:   MILK A-Z
Executive Director (
Dairy Education Board

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