Helminth infections common in Medieval Europe, grave study finds


Share post:

Although helminth infections–including tapeworms and roundworms–are among the world’s top neglected diseases, they are no longer endemic in Europe. However, researchers reporting in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases report that these infections were common in Medieval Europe, according to grave samples analyzed from across the continent.

Helminth infections common in Medieval Europe, grave study finds
Photomicrograph of a Trichuris trichiura egg from an archaeological deposit
[Credit: Adrian Smith & Patrik Flammer, University of Oxford, UK]

Helminths are parasitic worms and they infect an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide. The worms are transmitted through eggs that are present in human feces and can contaminate soil and water. While some infections cause only mild symptoms, others are associated with chronic malnutrition and physical impairment, particularly in children.

In the new work, Adrian Smith of the University of Oxford, UK, and colleagues analyzed 589 grave samples from 7 European sites dated between 680 and 1700 CE. Samples were taken from the pelvises of skeletons. Data associated with the sites allowed them to assess the influence of age, sex and community size on helminth infection rates.

Two soil transmitted nematodes–Ascaris spp. and Trichuris trichiura–were identified at all locations, and two food derived cestodes–Diphyllobothrium latum and Taenia spp.–were found at 4 sites. No helminths were found in any control samples. The rates of nematode infection in the medieval population were estimated at 8.5% (range 1.5%-25.6%) for T. trichiura and 25.1% (range 9.3%-42.9%) for Ascaris, similar rates to those seen in modern endemically infected populations. There were no differences in infection rates by sex or community population size, but infection rates were most common among children.

“Since the prevalence of medieval soil transmitted helminth infections mirror those in modern endemic countries, the factors affecting helminth decline in Europe may also inform modern intervention campaigns,” the researchers say. “The parasites in past communities can tell us a lot about living conditions including hygiene, sanitation and even culinary practices.”

Source: Public Library of Science [August 27, 2020]



Related articles

Hadrian and Greece meet again at Italy’s Villa Adriana

Over 50 masterpieces, many never exhibited in Italy before, will showcase starting Wednesday until November 2 at Tivoli's...

‘Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt’ at the Arab World Institute, Paris

'Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt', a landmark exhibition of over 250 antiquities, will open after the holiday season,...

‘Rhodes: A Greek island at the gates of the East. 15th-5th centuries BC’ at the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes

The special importance of the island of Rhodes as a gateway to the East is the theme of...

‘Secrets of the Lacquer Buddha’ at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The only existing sixth- and seventh-century Chinese lacquer Buddha sculptures have come together for the first time in...

Modern politics overshadows Israel’s historic Herod exhibit

He's best known as a great tyrant. King Herod is said to have killed his wife and sons...

Remains dug from Japan mass grave suggest epidemic in 1800s

Archaeologists have dug up the remains of more than 1,500 people, many of them believed to have died...

Oldest Egyptian writing on papyrus displayed for first time

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is showcasing for the first time the earliest writing from ancient Egypt found...

True size of prehistoric mega-shark finally revealed

A new study led by Swansea University and the University of Bristol has revealed the size of the...