Grave digging researchers from Vilnius University and Université de la Méditerranée from Marseille, France have looked at remains of 5 body lice (no less!) buried together with Napoleon’s soldiers in Vilnius. The results, full of national significance, are shocking:
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.