Parasites were feasting on humans in the Middle Ages, medieval skeletons show

Human-feasting parasites were common in Britain in the Middle Ages, samples from medieval graves have revealed.

The discovery could help fight illnesses in countries where worm problems are common today.

Boffins have discovered that one in four Brits suffered from tape worm infections.

A team, lead by scientists at Oxford, took samples from 589 skeletons in graves across seven European countries.

They looked at remains dated between 680 and 1700 and found that worm infections were commonplace in Medieval Europe.

While no longer endemic in Europe, today Helminths still infect an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide.

The worms are transmitted through eggs that are present in human faeces and can contaminate soil and water.

According to the NHS any worms in your gut will eventually pass out in your poo – often as very thin white lines.

While some infections cause only mild symptoms, others are linked with chronic malnutrition and physical impairment, particularly in children.

Common infections can cause sickness, diarrhoea or a stomach ache and often last for several days.

Dr Adrian Smith, Associate Professor of Infectious Disease at Oxford University, explained that samples were taken from the pelvises of skeletons.

Data associated with the sites allowed the team to assess the influence of age, sex and community size on helminth infection rates.

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Two soil transmitted nematodes were identified at all the locations, and two food derived cestodes were found at four sites.

No helminths were found in any control samples.

The research could help fight infections in countries where parasites are still a major concern.

Dr Smith said: "Since the prevalence of medieval soil transmitted helminth infections mirror those in modern endemic countries, the factors affecting helminth decline in Europe may also inform modern intervention campaigns."

He added: "The parasites in past communities can tell us a lot about living conditions including hygiene, sanitation and even culinary practices."

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