Hunchback King Richard III infected with worms

Posted Sep 4, 2013 by Layne Weiss
Researchers have found that King Richard III was likely infected with parasitic worms that grew to be as large as a foot in length.
King Richard III  by unknown artist  late 16th century.
King Richard III, by unknown artist, late 16th century.
"This is the first time anyone has studied a king [or] noble in Britain to look for ancient intestinal parasites," Piers Mitchell, a paleoparasitologist and orthopedic surgeon at the University of Cambridge, wrote to NBC News in an email. In a sample taken from the king's remains Mitchell and a team of researchers have found the eggs of Ascaris lumbricoides, a "simple roundworm."
"They may have been spread to Richard by cooks who did not wash their hands after using the toilet, or by the use of human feces from towns to fertilize fields nearby," Mitchell explained. Perhaps "salad vegetables became contaminated with eggs and were then eaten," he hypothesized.
In a study published online Wednesday in the Journal Lancet, researchers said they found evidence which suggests the eggs near the skeleton's pelvis were caused by an infection that occurred sometime during the king's life. The report said it is unlikely the worms caused the king any serious damage. In children, roundworms can cause stunted growth and a reduced IQ, The AP reports. For King Richard III, however, it seems the worms were just a "minor annoyance."
The researchers found 15 roundworm eggs in the king's pelvis region, The Journal Lancet reports.
"It was really exciting to discover that," Piers Mitchell said, according to the LA Times.
Since Richard died on the battlefield during a war, it is possible the worms, even if they hadn't really affected him much up until then, had made a repugnant appearance upon his death, The AP reports.
Traumatic events such as car accidents, can cause the worms to just pop out of peoples noses and ears and King Richard was killed in war.
"The worms get shocked and they move quickly," said Simon Brooker, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He said it was possible that the many blade injuries which Richard suffered before his death may have prompted the worms to leave his body in such a gruesome way.
Brooker, who wasn't a part of the King Richard III study, said about 820 people worldwide are infected with roundworm. It can be cured, however, with a cheap, one-dose pill.
"Worms are a remaining problem today, as they once were even for nobility," Brooker said. "In an ideal world, in the absence of improved sanitation, we would like everyone infected to have as low infection levels as Richard III."