Kevin Salesse and colleagues just published a new contribution in the International Journal of Paleopathology.
This paper aims at investigating the possible existence of isotopic offsets in δ 13 C col and δ 15 N col values in relation to tertiary syphilis. For this study, they had access to syphilitic and non-syphilitic individuals from the pathological-anatomical reference collection - the Jedlička collection - of the National Museum in Prague (Czech Republic, 19th century A.D.).
Their results show that individuals with syphilis have lower δ 13 C col values than individuals without the disease; the observed difference between the two groups is about 0.3-0.4‰, which is relatively small but still meaningful. However, no difference between δ 15 N col values of the two groups has been noticed. Either diets prescribed by physicians to syphilitic patients or nutritional stress caused by cyclic appetite disturbance due to the disease itself or the administered medical treatment appeared to be possible explanations of the observed isotopic pattern. Overall, the authors noted that the response of the two isotopic proxies could argue for relatively limited nutritional restrictions. This paper is the first study examining bone collagen isotopic response to syphilis based on clinically documented human skeletal materials.