Were the Romans teeming with Parasites?
The Romans had the most formidable army, some of the greatest rulers in history and created some of the most beautiful architecture in the world – and yet, when it comes to sanitation, they seem to have fallen behind (pardon the pun).
An archaeologist, Piers Mitchell, from the University of Cambridge, suggests that public health was not improved by the introduction of toilets, baths, aqueducts or sewage systems. It seems that there was much evidence waiting to be found within certain ‘remains’ left behind in fossilised feces. Good sanitation is imperative for the control and reduction of parasite populations; in Roman times, it seems that despite the best efforts on this front, parasite egg numbers were maintained by contact with feces from other people using the toilets and public bath houses (where water was changed periodically).
Even though the Romans had implemented hygiene projects, feces from before and after these projects were enforced, shows that egg numbers remained very similar with little or no reduction. What’s odd is that fish tapeworm were even more common during Roman times, possibly due to the appeal of fermented fish sauce.
Other parasites like head lice (ectoparasites) appear to have been found frequently despite regular bathing throughout the Roman empire.
It is known that having access to clean drinking water and toilets reduces the presence of parasites in a vicinity. Why then, did the Romans have a parasite problem on their hands? It is possible that the warm baths aided in the spread of these parasites and the infrequent changing of water allowed the parasite egg numbers to increase. Despite being ordered to remove human feces from the toilets and transport them to the countryside, this did not help, as farmers would often use the feces as fertiliser for the crops which would negate any positive impact that the removal of these feces from the toilets had.
Today, parasite infections are often treated with Anthelmintics; however, during Roman times such drugs were not availabl.
If you would like to read the study you can find it here –
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