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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.

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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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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