Digestive health

Updated 04 July 2014

Britain's King Richard III likely had roundworms

A team of British scientists has discovered that King Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485, may have suffered from a roundworm infection.

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King Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485, suffered from a roundworm infection, according to new research.

A team of British scientists made the discovery after examining the king's remains, which were found by archaeologists in 2012.

The findings were published Sept. 3 in the journal The Lancet.

"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," Jo Appleby, a lecturer in human bio-archaeology at the University of Leicester, said in a journal news release.

Roundworm eggs enter the body through contaminated food, water or soil. Once in the body, the parasite's eggs hatch into larvae and move throughout the body to the lungs, where they mature.

The roundworms crawl into the airways and throat, where they are swallowed into the intestines, where they can grow up to 12 inches long.

Multiple roundworm eggs

Using a powerful microscope, researchers led by Piers Mitchell, of the department of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Cambridge, analysed soil samples taken from the skeletal remains of Richard III, including his pelvis and skull.

Samples also were collected from the soil surrounding his grave.

Roundworm

The researchers found multiple roundworm eggs in the soil taken from the king's pelvis, where his intestines once were. They found no signs of eggs in the samples taken from his skull, however.

Very few eggs were found in the soil surrounding the king's gravesite, suggesting there was no contamination from the dumping of human waste in the area after he was buried. Therefore, the researchers concluded that Richard III had a roundworm infection during his lifetime.

"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," Mitchell said in the news release. "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."

Although roundworm infection is rare in the United Kingdom today, it remains one of the most common health conditions in the world, affecting up to 25% of all people, according to the news release.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to find out more about parasitic roundworm diseases.

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Dr Naayil Rajabally obtained his medical degree at the University of Witwatersrand in 2000. He completed his Gastroenterology training in 2011 and subsequently completed his MPhil degree in Gastroenterology at the University of Cape Town. Dr. Rajabally has expertise and special interest in complex Chrohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

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