Archaeology news: Trench Foot ravaged WW1 soldiers – study shows disease is centuries old

During the first world war, more than 500,000 soldiers were struck down with a disease which was dubbed Trench Fever. the illness was spread by body lice among soldiers in close, damp conditions in the trenches, and smptoms include extreme dizziness, headaches, back and leg aches as well as a fever which had the potential to reach 40.5C.

When it was first discovered, scientists believed it was a condition unique to war.

However, researchers have discovered that people had the disease hundreds of years before the soldiers of World War One contracted the illness.

Archaeologists from the University of South Florida (USF) analysed bone fragments of 145 people who lived between the first and 19th century, as part of new research published in the journal PLOS One.

All of the deceased individuals were buried in a Roman cemetery in Syracuse, Sicily.

To the team’s surprise, they discovered that at least 20 percent of the individuals they analysed had traces of Bartonella quintana, the bacteria responsible for trench fever.

The researchers stated that the disease was relatively easy to spot in the ancient traces as it alters an individual’s DNA.

Davide Tanasi, an associate professor with USF’s History Department and member of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture and the Environment, said: “Once contracted, there are diseases, like trench fever, that can leave traces within your DNA and can integrate your DNA with further information.

“This means that once a person dies, even as far back as 2,000 years ago, it is still possible to find traces of the bacterium that infected them.”

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A statement from USF said: “The bacteria are spread to humans through contact with body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis), making poor personal hygiene a primary factor in its spread and infection rate.

“Researchers hope that by tracing the progression of B. quintana through history, they’re able to identify ways to better manage the spread of the disease today.

“For Tanasi, his work with the remains excavated in Sicily continues.

“Through stable-isotope analysis, his research group examines the diet and lives of those who once lived in the region.

“He hopes this work will further answer questions about the lifestyle and health of the Christian community of Roman Syracuse.”