A new epidemic has been identified after the analysis of the DNA of two bodies, of a Basque soldier and another Sardinian, that appeared a few years ago in the works of the La Sagrera AVE station in Barcelona. In total, about 500 bodies were found. Some in holes of four or five bodies and others buried in mass graves. The haste with which they appear to have been buried suggested that it was necessary to dispose of the corpses quickly. Just a year before there was a black plague epidemic and was blamed on this at first. However, the analysis has given another result. The culprit of these deaths was bacteria Salmonella enterica serovar Paratyphi C. This new information also adds details about another epidemic, known as cocoliztli, emerged on the other side of the pond. But let’s take it easy.
The black plague bacteria often leave a mark on the corpses it leaves behind. But none have been found in this new study; This is the reason why it has been ruled out that these two soldiers – and probably the rest of those who were buried in the area – died due to a new epidemic of this disease. The investigation resulted in another bacterium, the Salmonella enterica serovar Paratyphi C, as possible guilty of what happened between the soldiers who besieged Barcelona in 1652 as part of the so-called Guerra dels Segadors.
The bacteria Salmonella enterica serovar Paratyphi C produces paratyphoid fever that, according to the Carlos III Health Institute, after two weeks of incubation it produces symptoms such as “high fever, general malaise, cough, skin rash and enlarged spleen. Diarrhea may be present at some point”.
The investigation is not over yet. At least 20 more bodies will be analyzed soon and no traces of the Black Death are expected. Not only to confirm this type of salmonella as the culprit of the epidemic in Barcelona in 1652, but also to better understand what the armies were like at that time. In this first analysis we know that one was of Basque origin and the other came from Sardinia; which at that time was part of the Spanish crown. “This work helps us understand the composition of the army at that time, which is not well known ”, as the CSIC geneticist explains in El País Carles Lalueza-Fox, co-author of the study. “The armies of Europe were professionalized and internationalized in such a way that many of their troops were mercenaries.”
Relationship with the cocoliztli epidemic in Mexico
But, also, thanks to this research this epidemic has been related to another in Mexico. The arrival of the Spanish meant that between 50 and 90% of the indigenous people in the area died. This epidemic of a strange disease was known as cocoliztli.
The disease known in Mexico as cocoliztli killed between 50 and 90% of the population of the area after the arrival of the Spanish invaders
In 2018, a group of researchers also specialized in genetics unearthed mass graves in Mexico. They also found that the culprit of the deaths was the bacterium Salmonella enterica serovar Paratyphi C. And, now, this new research shows a genetic relationship between both epidemics. “Until now it was thought that the causes of the epidemics in America were measles and smallpox,” says Lalueza-Fox. “What our work shows is that probably the paratyphoid fever caused by this salmonella was also in the cocktail of diseases carried by the Europeans that caused that debacle.”
The bacteria’s travel route
It is difficult to trace the path that the bacteria followed; since it is different from those that caused epidemics in Europe at the time. It probably originated in the European continent, it even could have made it in Spain, and later it traveled to Mexico during the Spanish invasion. Because of this, thousands of people from the area died from the cocoliztli epidemic. Then he surely returned to Spain. However, we cannot fully guarantee this. What we do know is what killed all those people, both in Mexico and the two soldiers who besieged Barcelona.
And it is that, although anything was called plague at the time; We now know that many other bacteria were to blame for the diseases that originated. Fortunately, now the epidemics of this salmonella are not a problem for us. Probably because hygienic and sanitary measures have improved enormously since 1652. It is fortunate that science advances in this way, right?