A new research published in the Parasitology journal shows that during the roman times, a lot of parasites were spread. The romans are known for their public baths, latrines that had washing facilities, fountains, sewer systems and aqueducts.
For the study, cesspits, rubbish pits, burials and sewer drains were analyzed. The researchers wanted to see the exact impact the Romans had on North Africa, Middle East and Europe. They studied the presence before and after the Romanization.
After analyzing fossilized feces, burials and ancient latrines, the researchers found out that the intestinal parasites didn’t lower their number during the Roman period, as was expected. Contrary to what was believed, these parasites continued to increase since the Iron Age. After the Romans succeeded to develop all those technologies, the turn the parasites took was an unexpected one.
The most spread parasites of the intestines in the Roman Empire were the roundworm and the whipworm. The round worm (Ascaris lumbricoides) affects the humans and causes the ascariasis disease. The infestation with this parasite can affect the cognitive processes and can even lead to death. The whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) is a round worm that causes trichuriasis. It is called whipworm because it resembles a whip. These intestinal parasites are transmitted when the food is contaminated by feces. Another spread parasite was Entamoeba histolytica, which caused fever, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. The parasite was contracted when the people drank water that came in contact with human feces. Even though bathing was widely practiced by the Romans, fleas and lice were still very common parasites among them.
According to Mitchell, one of the researchers, the parasites were spread either by the lack of hand wash after using the toilet, either by the use of human feces as fertilizer for the crops.
Romans were known for taking care of their hygiene, building public baths, flushing latrines, and even using sponges for their washing. Mitchell said that these methods helped the Romans become a more civilized people, with the public latrines and baths making not only the cities, but the people as well cleaner.
One of the explanations that lies behind this strange discovery is that the human feces were usually taken to the countryside. As the countryside people used the feces for their crops, the infestation with the parasites was almost impossible to avoid. When the feces are not composted for a number of months, they can spread parasites on the crops. Also, sometimes the public baths weren’t very clean, as the water was changed intermittently. The last explanation to why during the roman times, a lot of parasites were spread consists in the fermented fish sauce, which the Romans loved very much. In the fish sauce, tapeworm eggs formed often and were consumed by the unaware people.
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