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Science Found The Ancient Dude Who Started Herpes

The herpes origin story is even more disturbing that you’d expect.

by Wendy Syfret
Jan 4 2019, 2:39pm

Image of Ancient dude

Do humans have any greater foe that herpes? Of course they do. Herpes isn't really that bad. I mean, once you're out of year 10 and the comic value of tormenting any poor kid with a stress cold sore starts to fade, they're really not a huge part of life.

Unless you are the researchers from Cambridge and Oxford Brookes University who have dedicated their time, funding, and giant brains to tracking down one man— HERPES PATIENT ZERO. How do I know it's a man? I don't, but of course it is.

Also, you know how I started this article being like— herpes conversations, who needs them?! I retract all of that. Because after reading this report I can confirm that this is the most interesting thing happening in the world right now.

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A journalist's impression of a scientific illustration.

Now, before we get stuck in, let's treat ourselves to a little herpes history: At some point between 3 and 1.4 million years ago, the herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2) made the jump from chimps to ancestors of Homo sapiens. (In case this is ever a pub trivia topic, HSV2 is the strain on herpes that causes genital lesions.)

But until now, we didn't know what that jump actually was, or more specifically, who acted as the bridge between species. Spoiler alert: no one fucked a monkey and started herpes. How we got it is actually way more cooked.

The researchers have pegged this to old mate Plio-Pleistocene hominin Paranthropus boisei —ironically and colloquially known as 'Nutcracker Man'. Amazingly, the nickname wasn't given in reference to the tournament he would inflict on genitals for the next few million years. Rather it was for his massive, flat, super strong cheek teeth and chewing muscles that let him...crack nuts, I guess?


You know this dude wouldn't give you anything:


It's theorised that he probably picked up HSV2 in Tanzania "through scavenging ancestral chimp meat where savannah met forest." So, chimp meat gave it to Nutto, but how did they pass it onto Homo erectus?

Paranthropus boisei and Homo erectus tended to live close by—usually around large water sources—so they would have been primed to pass on HSV2. This is the bit in the story where the monkey-fucking stuff starts to look light hearted. Because homo erectus are assumed to have been infected by actually eating the poor dude. Karma's a bitch!

Dr. Houldcroft, who lead the research, explained the transformative moment in human history like this: "For these viruses to jump species barriers they need a lucky genetic mutation combined with significant fluid exchange. In the case of early hominins, this means through consumption or intercourse – or possibly both."

So there you have it. Your tingling and itching is the ancient consequence of a human centipede-style food chain. Lesson from all this? Use a condom.

Want more herpes? Who doesn't!

Herpes: Welcome to the Disease You Probably Have

Let's Not Make Such a Big Deal About Genital Herpes

Finding Love with Herpes, Thanks to STI-Positive Online Dating

This article originally appeared on VICE AU.