Mário Vicente | Ostia Antica: Epidemiological consequences of Roman maritime networks and practices

Abstract: The Roman Empire aided people movement and interaction through land and sea networks. Trading, politics, military, and slavery were the main factors for such connectivity across the empire. Ostia was seaborne gateway of Rome. In addition to travelers and goods, harbors are potentially hotspots for upcoming pathogens. By performing metagenomic analyses on 30 individuals from Ostia Antica, dated to ~2,000 years ago, we provide a glimpse of the pathogen and parasite diversity present at that time and place. Among other pathogens identified, 17 out of 30 individuals show sequencing reads that are uniquely assigned to the tapeworm species Spirometra erinaceieuropaei. This species can infect humans through the consumption of undercooked frogs or snakes, or the use of those animals as a dressing on open wounds or eyes. Moreover, it is also possible to get infected from contaminated drinking water. This study confirms through molecular evidence the presence of tapeworms as part of the parasitic diversity in the Roman period.