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“Roundworm was exceedingly common in the Roman world, with a wide geographic spread across the Empire [Williams et al 2016]”

Ascaris lumbricoides is the “large roundworm” of humans, growing to a length of up to 35 cm. Ascariasis is the most prevalent intestinal helminth infection in the world. It is concentrated in tropical and subtropical areas with poor sanitation. Humans are infected with A. lumbricoides when they ingest its eggs, through hand-to-mouth contact with contaminated soil or by eating uncooked fruits or vegetables contaminated with human feces. Eggs hatch in the intestines, and larvae migrate first to the lungs and then to the intestines, where they mature. Light infections may be asymptomatic. Early symptoms are pulmonary, larvae in the lungs may cause cough and wheezing; later symptoms are gastrointestinal, masses of adult worms may obstruct the intestines and single adult worms may migrate into and obstruct bile or pancreatic ducts. Chronically infected children may develop undernutrition, causing protein energy loss and vitamin A and C deficiencies. Overall, it can cause stunting of linear growth, leading to both physical and mental deficits. Diagnosis is by microscopic examination of the stool; occasionally, adult worms are seen. Treatment is with albendazole, mebendazole, or ivermectin; obstructions may require surgical or endoscopic extraction of the worms.

Paleontology is defined as the branch of science concerned with fossil animals and plants. The related word “Paleonematology”, as you may guess,  comprises the ancient nematodes identification from sedimentary deposits, coprolites, amber and mummies, with the aim of understanding not only the worm evolution, but also their relationship with human civilization [Poinar G 2011]. 

The development of settlements and cities facilitated the transmission of infections between humans, and the opening up of trade routes resulted in the wider dissemination of parasitic infections. In the Old World, there are records of A. lumbricoides in a Middle Kingdom Egyptian mummy dating from 1938 to 1600 BC and from China in the Ming Dynasty between AD 1368 and 1644. There are extensive written records including the Egyptian medical papyri, the works of Hippocrates in the fifth century BC, Chinese writings from the second and third centuries BC, and texts of Roman and Arabic physicians [Cox F 2002].