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England’s King Richard III Was Infected with Roundworms

Update Date: Sep 04, 2013 09:50 AM EDT

During the medieval times, the royalty, especially the King, feasted on an abundance of food while other, less fortunate people starved. Even though the King might have access to wonderful food, it did not mean that the food was always safe to eat. For one king in particular, England's King Richard III, his food was most likely the culprit for his roundworm infection.

For the first time since archaeologists excavated the remains of Richard III in 2012 from a parking lot located in Leicester, England, the remains were analyzed. The team looked at the soil samples taken from the pelvic region, the skull area and the surrounding soil in the grave. After running the soil samples through mesh sieves to get rid of dirt, the researchers studied the remaining samples under a microscope. Under the magnification, the researchers were able to identify tiny, oval-shaped eggs that were clearly roundworm eggs. After the analysis, the researchers concluded that there were a total of 15 eggs found in the pelvic region. There were no eggs found in the soil samples that were taken from the king's skull and there was only one egg found in the burial site soil.

"What we found was plenty of roundworm eggs in the sacral soil, where his intestines would have been. There were no parasite eggs of any kind in the skull soil and only very low levels around the grave," said Piers Mitchell, a medical consultant and researcher at Cambridge University according to BBC News. "This shows that the significant number of eggs inside the soil must have genuinely been from his intestines and could not have been contamination from soil in the grave."

Roundworms enter the human body through contaminated food or water that entered the produce through infected fecal matter. Once the food is ingested, the eggs hatch in larvae. Given time, the larvae will start to travel into the lungs where they mature and travel up toward the throat via the airways. The roundworms are then swallowed back where they enter the intestines and continue to grow. Roundworms can grow up to one foot long.

Despite identifying this infection, the researchers believe that the roundworms did not affect Richard III's rule. Richard III died in the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and whether or not the roundworms affected his performance during this battle is unclear. The researchers could not determine the severity of his infection based from these eggs alone.

The study was published in The Lancet

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