Roundworms Plagued England's Richard III, Suggests Postmortem

Image: Roundworms Plagued England's Richard III, Suggests Postmortem

Wednesday, 04 Sep 2013 10:57 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Roundworms likely plagued the body of former English monarch Richard III before he died, suggests a postmortem on his skeleton dug up last year beneath a parking lot in the city of Leicester.

The researchers who excavated the monarch's body found eggs near the skeleton's pelvis, suggesting the parasites lived within the king's body and could have grown up to a foot in length.

Richard III, a despised, hunchback king, who reigned over England from June 1483 to August 1485, died in the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last English king killed in war.

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Though extremely harmful to children, in which they can cause stunted growth and a lowered IQ, such parasitical roundworms were likely a mere annoyance to the king researchers suggest, considering he was well-fed and cared for throughout his life, the Associated Press notes.

"Richard probably had more than enough food that he could share with his worms," said Piers Mitchell, a professor of biological anthropology at Cambridge University, one of the researchers. Mitchell added that the discovery was the first time any English monarch had been shown to have been infected with worms.

Despite the lack of severity, the worms, which in severe cases can cause blockage in the intestines and lead to malnutrition, occurs when a person consumes contaminated food in which the worm's eggs are contained. After the eggs hatch, the larvae then travels to the lungs and throat, before it is ingested back down into the small intestines, the AP notes.

"As the worms migrate through the body, they can cause a cough and an unpleasant feeling as the worm is swallowed," Mitchell said.

At the time, the king's doctors would likely have missed any symptoms Richard III might have been suffering from, and likely prescribed bloodletting as a treatment, Mitchell suggested.

Mitchell also added that the worms likely had no effect on the king's preexisting spinal deformity.

The worms, however, might have made a brief appearance at the time of his death, as there have been cases in which roundworm crawled out of peoples' noses and ears in car crashes and other traumatic instances.

"The worms get shocked and they move quickly," Simon Brooker, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not part of the study, told the AP.

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Brooker added that due to the many blade injuries suffered by the king shortly before his death, it is possible that the worms made a hasty exit from his body.

Today, roundworm is cured through the ingestion of an inexpensive pill, though the parasitical worms persist, infecting some 820 million people worldwide, according to Brooker.

Related stories:

Face of King Richard III Revealed in 3D Reconstruction

Richard III of England Had a 'Neighbor' in a Coffin-Within-Coffin

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