The oldest Schistosoma egg ever found was unearthed recently in an archaeological dig in Syria, and its surroundings suggest that ancient Mesopotamians may have contributed to the spread of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease.
Also called bilharzia or snail fever, schistosomiasis is caused by Schistosoma flatworms that live in freshwater snails, which they leave to burrow into humans wading or swimming. They migrate to blood vessels in the bladders, bowels or sexual organs of their hosts.
Infestation can cause bloody urine, anemia, kidney failure and bladder cancer. More than 700 million people in the world — mostly the rural poor — live in areas at risk for it.
The egg was discovered in a 6,200-year-old grave in Tell Zeidan, an ancient farming village near the Euphrates River, and was sifted out of dirt from the corpse’s pelvic region. Control samples from the head and foot areas had no eggs, so the soil was presumably not contaminated later, according to the study, which was published June 19 by Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Although the village is too arid for wheat or barley, both were grown there, suggesting that it had irrigation ditches, which were first dug in that part of Mesopotamia 7,500 years ago. That suggests that human intervention helped spread the disease in one of the cradles of civilization, said Dr. Piers D. Mitchell, a Cambridge University paleopathologist and a co-author of the study.
Previously, the oldest egg was found in a 5,200-year-old Egyptian mummy.
Source: New York Times