Researchers have conducted a genetic analysis of the mummified remains of a child who died during the 16th century and found evidence of infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV), The New York Times reports. This finding confirms the theory that the virus has persisted in humans for centuries.

Publishing their findings in PLOS Pathogens, investigators followed up on a previous scientific analysis, which had suggested that the mummified child, who was buried in  the Basilica of Saint Domenico Maggiore, was infected with smallpox. That study, however, was not based on a DNA analysis. Using advanced gene-sequencing techniques for the new analysis, the scientists determined that the child had hep B, not smallpox.

This research was based on small tissue samples of skin and bone, from which the investigators drew miniscule fragments of DNA. Ultimately, they stitched together pieces of genetic code to flesh out the picture of the hep B genome. They found that the genome was similar enough to that of modern hep B to suggest that the virus has evolved little over the last 450 years.

To read a press release about the study, click here.

To read the study, click here.

To read the New York Times article, click here.