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Crusader Dysentery

July 14, 2008

The Crusaders had more to worry about than just dying in battle.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The battle against dysentery….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

During the Crusades of medieval Europe, soldiers didn’t just die by the sword. Starvation, typhoid, amoebic dysentery and other diseases also claimed lives by the droves. This according to paleopathologist Piers Mitchell of Imperial College London.

PIERS MITCHELL (Imperial College London ):
Perhaps 15-20% of people on a crusade lasting 2 or 3 years would have died from infectious diseases and malnutrition.

HIRSHON:
Mitchell and his colleagues recently sampled microorganisms from two medieval latrines near Jerusalem. They identified two types of bacteria that cause amoebic dysentery in a latrine used by the Crusaders, but these microbes were absent from a latrine used by residents of the area. He says the unsanitary conditions of battle probably predisposed soldiers to the illness. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.