© Dennis Van GervenOne of the Nubian mummies studied by the team led by Amber Campbell Hibbs and George Armelagos at Emory University.
A "modern" disease of humans may have been what sickened ancient Nubian cultures, research on more than 200 mummies has found. The mummies were infected by a parasitic worm associated with irrigation ditches.
The disease, called schistosomiasis, is contracted through the skin when a person comes into contact with worm-infested waters. The disease infects over 200 million people worldwide a year; once contracted, the disease causes a rash,
followed by fever, chills, cough and muscle aches. If infection goes untreated, it can damage the liver, intestines, lungs and bladder.
The species of Schistosoma worm, called S. mansoni, found to be prevalent in the Nubian mummies had been thought of as a more recent agent of disease, linked to urban life and stagnant water in irrigation ditches.
"It is the one most prevalent in the delta region of Egypt now, and researchers have always assumed that it was a more recent pathogen, but now we show that goes back thousands of years," said study researcher George Armelagos of Emory University in Atlanta.
Although Armelagos and his colleagues weren't able to discern how bad the infections were in these Nubians, they said those who were infected would have felt run down - which would have affected their work (mostly farming).