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J Infect Dis. 2006 Jan 1;193(1):112-20. Epub 2005 Nov 18.

Evidence for louse-transmitted diseases in soldiers of Napoleon's Grand Army in Vilnius.

Author information

1
Unite des Rickettsies, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) Unite Mixte de Recherche (UMR) 6020, Universite de la Mediterranee, Faculte de Medecine, Marseille, France. Didier.Raoult@medecine.univ-mrs.fr

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Many soldiers in Napoleon's Grand Army died of infectious diseases during its retreat from Russia. Because soldiers were commonly infested with body lice, it has been speculated that louse-borne infectious diseases, such as epidemic typhus (caused by Rickettsia prowazekii), were common.

METHODS:

We investigated this possibility during recent excavations of a mass grave of Napoleon's soldiers in Vilnius, Lithuania. Segments of 5 body lice, identified morphologically and by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and sequencing, were found in earth from the grave that also contained fragments of soldiers' uniforms.

RESULTS:

DNA of Bartonella quintana (the agent of trench fever) was identified by PCR and sequencing in 3 of the lice. Similarly, PCR and sequencing of dental pulp from the remains of 35 soldiers revealed DNA of B. quintana in 7 soldiers and DNA of R. prowazekii in 3 other soldiers.

CONCLUSIONS:

Our results show that louse-borne infectious diseases affected nearly one-third of Napoleon's soldiers buried in Vilnius and indicate that these diseases might have been a major factor in the French retreat from Russia.

PMID:
16323139
DOI:
10.1086/498534
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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