King of England Richard III suffered from parasitic roundworm
New research from the University of Cambridge has uncovered evidence that Richard III suffered from the roundworm parasite (Ascaris lumbricoides).
Richard III, who ruled England between 1483 – 85 and was the last King of the House of York, has dominated the news in the last year, ever since his body was uncovered by archaeologists in a council car park in Leicester.
The team of researchers, led by Dr Piers Mitchell, of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, have since been undertaking careful analysis of the remains, in an attempt to shed further light on the attributes and history of the controversial king.
Using a powerful microscope, the team examined soil samples taken from the skeleton’s pelvis and skull, in addition to soil surrounding the grave. According to Dr Mitchell, the microscope revealed multiple roundworm eggs in the soil sample taken from the pelvis, where the intestines would have been situated in life.
The lack of eggs in soil samples from the skull, and similar samples surrounding the body confidently suggest that the eggs found in the pelvis area resulted from genuine roundworm during his life, rather than from external contamination by human waste in the area.
In an article for The Lancet, Dr Mitchell revealed that “Richard was infected with roundworms in his intestines, although no other species of intestinal parasite were present in the samples we studied”.
Roundworms are parasitic nematodes, which infect humans when people ingest their eggs via contaminated food, water or soil. After gestation, the parasite then crawls up into the airways to the throat to be swallowed back into the intestines where they grow up to one foot long.
Roundworm infection is thought to be one of the commonest health conditions in the world, affecting up to a quarter of all people globally, although it is rare in the UK today.
Dr Jo Appleby, Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology at the University of Leicester, UK, shed some light on the situation and explained that: “Despite Richard's noble background, it appears that his lifestyle did not completely protect him from intestinal parasite infection, which would have been very common at the time”.
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