Abstract of the chapter







Parasitology in antiquity. A walk through writings

Carmen Cuéllar 


Ancient cultures knew macroscopic parasites, parasitic diseases and different treatments for them. In the Old Testament and the Talmud ectoparasites were mentioned. The Malaria and helminth infections were referred in the Papyrus of Ebers. The Old Testament included hygiene standards to prevent disease transmission, such as incinerating the animals remains used in sacrifices and burying the human faeces in trenches outside the camp. The Bible mentions a possible type of cutaneous leishmaniosis. The Greek historian Herodotus cited how the Egyptians were using mosquito nets. Hippocrates described the tertian and quartan fevers, relating them to the stagnant water. Pinworms, round worms, tapeworms and parasites of fish were well-known by Aristotle.  Dioscorides quoted belly worms that are like pumpkin seeds. Galen redescribed tertians, quartans, hydatidosis and ascariosis. Arab medicine reached a great development with Rhazes and Avicenna who studied helminths and described the vena medinensis. Parasites were known in pre-Columbian America. Francesco Redi showed that larvae originated from fly eggs. With the improvement of the microscope by the Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Parasitology entered a new era. Analyzing the history of parasitic diseases from written material shows that most of them were already present in antiquity using different forms of diagnosis and some remedies for treatment.