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Early man may have contracted genital herpes from eating this ancient primate

New research reveals the STD's creepy origin story.
This hominin, Paranthropus boisei, gave us genital herpes. Photo: GETTY

Genital herpes just got a creepy AF origin story. 

New research published in the journal Virus Evolution points the finger at the hominin species Paranthropus boisei, but I’d say our human ancestors are, uh, at least partly at fault for deciding to both f—k them and eat them. 

Here’s the scenario: Between 1.4 and 3 million years ago, the four-foot-tall, small-brained primate, nicknamed "Nutcracker Man" for its large jaws and sharp teeth, was hanging out in Africa with ancient chimpanzees and homo erectus, our earliest ancestors who knew how to stand up straight. 

Prior research shows that humans first got oral herpes — HSV-1, the pesky virus, that causes cold sores around the mouth — from swapping spit with old chimps. While oral herpes can also lead to genital herpes (HSV-2), say, if someone with HSV-1 performs oral sex, most cases of genital herpes are caused by genital-to-genital contact with someone carrying the HSV-2 strain.   

But back then, just like us, HSV-2 was still evolving, and you could also contract it from oral fluid exchange, as well as blood. The researchers theorize that the boisei contracted HSV-2 by "scavenging ancestral chimp meat." The virus would have passed through open sores or bites.

According to the researchers, we likely interacted with the boisei around watering holes, and we likely got herpes either by having sex with them, OR BY EATING THEM. So we were not any better than the nutcracker men! 

Dining on primates was not atypical for early man, and has gotten our species into a lot of trouble.

We can 'blame' our ancestors for eating other hominins/great apes, this has been the source of other primate-to-human infections such as HIV," Charlotte Houldcroft, senior study author and virologist at the University of Cambridge Department of Archaeology, told CNN. "Eating other species closely related to oneself has risks, because pathogens adapted to species genetically similar to us will find it easier to jump the species barrier."

My only qualm is that she put "blame" in quotes.