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Richard III suffered from roundworm infection

The king’s position in society and noble lifestyle did not protect him from the common condition, it seems.

RESEARCHERS IN ENGLAND have revealed that Richard III suffered from a roundworm infection.

The discovery was detailed, along with images, in a Clinical Picture published in The Lancet today.

imageSkeleton of Richard III at excavation. (Image: The Lancet)

The skeletal remains of Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485, were found in 2012 by archaeologists at the University of Leicester. Since then, scientists have been analysing the body in an attempt to gain further understanding of the controversial king.

The researchers from Leicester and Cambridge universities, led by Dr Piers Mitchell, used a powerful microscope to examine soil samples taken from the skeleton’s pelvis and skull.

The study has revealed multiple roundworm eggs in the soil sample taken from the pelvis, where the intestines would have been situated during the king’s life.

imageA decorticated roundworm egg (Ascaris lumbricoides) from sacral sample of Richard III. (Image: The Lancet)

However, there was no sign of eggs in soil from the skull, and very few eggs in the soil that surrounded the grave, suggesting that the eggs found in the pelvis area resulted from a genuine roundworm infection during his life, rather than from external contamination by the later dumping of human waste in the area.

“Our results show that Richard was infected with roundworms in his intestines, although no other species of intestinal parasite were present in the samples we studied,” said Dr Mitchell.

Roundworm is spread by the faecal contamination of food by dirty hands or use of faeces as a crop fertiliser.

“We would expect nobles of this period to have eaten meats such as beef, pork and fish regularly, but there was no evidence for the eggs of the beef, pork or fish tapeworm. This may suggest that his food was cooked thoroughly, which would have prevented the transmission of these parasites.”

“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,” continued Dr Jo Appleby.

Roundworms are parasitic nematodes, which infect humans when people ingest their eggs via contaminated food, water, or soil. Once eaten, the eggs hatch into larvae, which migrate through the tissues of the body to the lungs where they mature. They then crawl up the airways to the throat to be swallowed back into the intestines, where they can grow into adults around a foot long.

Roundworm infection is thought to be one of the most common health conditions in the world, affecting up to a quarter of all people globally.

Richard III died at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

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