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Researchers find lung parasite in a Joseon-era mummy
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2018.09.21 18:19
  • Updated 2018.09.21 18:19
  • comments 0

A research team at Korea University Guro Hospital (KUGH) has found a lung parasite inside a Joseon-era mummy for the first time, the hospital said Friday.

The team, led by Professor Kim Han-kyeom of the pathology department at the hospital, found mummified lung parasites and eggs during a microscopic observation of the lung tissue of the mummy, nicknamed Kim Eui-jung, found in Uijeongbu north of Seoul in 2016.

Professor Kim Han-kyeom (left) examines the mummy at Korea University Guro Hospital’s lab.

Lung parasites, also known as lung flukes, can infect people after they eat raw or undercooked crabs or crayfish. Symptoms include severe coughing, hemoptysis and chest pains.

Although many experts considered the possibility of lung parasite infection among people who lived in the Joseon Kingdom era (1392-1910), this is the first time that a team has found a parasite from an actual lung of a person who lived during the period.

The team also found a large amount of pollen in the respiratory tract of the mummy.

The team believes that the pollen is the leftover of an oriental medicine called “powhang,” dried small reed-mace pollens used during the Joseon era for hemostatic and that the mummy took the medication to treat symptoms related to lung parasites infections.

“Until now, there was a tendency of presuming pulmonary tuberculosis as the cause of death for patients who died while spewing out blood during the Joseon era,” Professor Kim said. “However, after confirming bronchodilator symptoms in a mummy found in 2004 and again discovering lung parasites through this research, we now know there were various causes besides tuberculosis in the symptoms of blood-coughing deaths.”

With the support from various institutions such as the KUGH and National Forensic Service, Prof. Kim has been conducting surveys on the mummy for more than two years to obtain the medical data of the people of Joseon era.

Based on such efforts, the team has discovered that the mummy is that of a man about 40 years old and obese. The team also confirmed significant visceral obesity and fatty liver, cirrhosis, and atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries during the autopsy process.

Also, the team detected four parasites such as Clonorchiasis Sinensis and Aspergillus in the mummy's intestine.

“The mummy from the Joseon Kingdom is our precious medical heritage,” Kim said. “Through conducting thorough, systematic research, it is necessary to supplement the lack of research on diseases that affect Koreans, while also reviewing disease from the Joseon period.”


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