At first thought, one might fear the notion that finding an illness in Oetzi could lead to the revival of some sort of ancient plague—but in truth, the 5,300-year-old mummy’s gut has only given up H. pylori.
Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria believed to currently sit in the bodies of two-thirds of the world’s human population. Once it enters a host, it can live in the digestive track—potentially causing ulcers in the stomach or small intestine—and for some, an infection that could turn cancerous. However, most people live with the germ without ever experiencing any symptoms—and for those who do get sick from H. pylori, there are medications available.
The study team was able to look at samples taken from Oetzi’s intestines and stomach, which revealed that there was interaction between the man’s immune system and the H. pylori bacteria, but were unable to ascertain what—if any—sort of symptoms he was experiencing.
Furthermore, the group was able to determine Oetzi was suffering from a strain typically found in modern Central and South Asian peoples—rather than the type that affects today’s Europeans. The mummy is of European descent, which gives scientists the impression that there may have been a migration surge from Africa into Europe at around the time of the Iceman’s death—indicating the possibility that there were several migrations from continent to continent, instead of the previously held belief that only one such massive movement took place.
As for Oetzi’s health, the stomach bug was probably the lesser of his worries, as it had already been determined he had arthritis, heel fractures, and possibly Lyme disease.
Not to mention an arrow in his left shoulder.