A team of researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Leicester concluded that King Richard III suffered from a roundworm infection after finding multiple roundworm eggs (Ascaris lumbricoides) where his intestines would have been, in his remains.
Richard, who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, was exhumed in 2012 after his body was discovered during an extensive excavation of the Grey Friars church site.
A study on his remains led by Dr. Piers Mitchell of Cambridge revealed that the King suffered from a roundworm infection at the time of his death.
Scientists found multiple roundworm eggs in the soil that had been situated around Richard's pelvic bone, an area that according to researchers, is consistent with where his intestines would have been.
Roundworms infect humans when the eggs are ingested through contaminated food, water or soil. Once inside the body, the eggs hatch into larvae and enter the lungs to mature. Later, they crawl up through the airways to the throat to and are then swallowed back into the intestines where they grow into adults sometimes growing more than a foot in size.
Mitchell pointed out that because no eggs were found in the soil around the skull and only a few eggs were found in the rest of the soil within the grave, it's fairly likely that the King suffered from roundworm infection and not that the eggs came from external contamination.
“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 a statement. "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.”
"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,” said Dr. Jo Appleby, a Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology at Leicester.
According to Red Orbit, roundworm is one of the most common health ailments in the world, affecting up to a quarter of all humans, though is rare in the UK.