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Godly Parasites: Medieval Monks Battled Nasty Intestinal Microbes | Health

FRIDAY, Aug. 19, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A new archaeological analysis suggests that medieval monks were far more wormy than ordinary people.

Those who lived in medieval Cambridge were almost twice as likely to be infected intestinal parasites as urban dwellers, the researchers found.

According to a new report, despite the fact that Augustinian monks had access to modern sanitary conditions, almost 60% of them were infected with worms, compared to about 30% of ordinary working people.

“The monks of medieval Cambridge seem to have been riddled with parasites,” said study author Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology. “This is the first time anyone has tried to find out how common parasites were in people living different lifestyles in the same medieval city.”

Why did monks suffer from parasites? Researchers suspect this is because the monks either fertilized their gardens with human feces or bought products that contained human or pig excrement.

For the study, archaeologists from Cambridge tested soil samples taken from around the pelvises of 19 monks buried on the grounds of the city’s former Augustinian monastery, and compared them with samples of 25 local residents buried in All Saints Cemetery near the parish church in the Castle.

Eleven monks (58%) were infected with worms compared to eight city residents (32%), the investigators found.

According to the researchers, the 32% infection rate among the townspeople is consistent with studies of medieval burials in other European countries, meaning that the infection rate at the monastery was extremely high.

A round worm was the most common infection, but researchers also found evidence head of hair. Both are spread because of poor sanitation, the study authors said in a university press release.

Medieval townspeople relied on cesspools in the ground to dispose of human and household waste, but monasteries at the time typically used running water systems to flush toilets, the researchers noted. They probably also had access to hand washing facilities.

“One possibility is that the monks fertilized their gardens with human faeces, which was not unusual in the medieval period, and this could have led to reinfestation with the worms,” ​​Mitchell explained.

The findings were published on August 18 in International Journal of Paleopathology.

Additional information

Cleveland Clinic has more about round worms.

SOURCE: University of Cambridge, News Release, 18 August 2022

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