375-Year-Old Mummy Found in Korea With Parasites Contracted From Raw Shellfish

April 1, 2019 Updated: April 1, 2019

Another great reason not to eat raw seafood.

A 375-year-old mummy found in South Korea had a parasitic liver infection, and researchers think that he may have gotten the infection by eating raw shellfish.

The man was identified as Jing Lee, who died in 1642 at the age of 63 in Cheongo, and his body was very well-preserved when he was discovered, the New Scientist reported, citing a team headed by Min Seo at Dankook University College of Medicine, South Korea.

Seo’s team noted an odd lump in Jing’s liver, and they later discovered that it contained golden-brown eggs.


They identified them as belonging to a parasitic fluke, Paragonimus westermani, which can cause hepatic paragonimiasis—a rare form of infestation. They’re contracted via eating freshwater shellfish, and it’s likely that Jing picked it up by eating raw crabs or crayfish, according to the report.

Both animals were consumed by the Joseon culture in which he belonged, “however, I cannot say that this pathological condition could be the cause of death,” Seo said, adding that it’s unclear if he had pain or fever.

“The parasite will penetrate through the lining of the intestine and then it’s free to move around the peritoneal cavity,” said James Diaz at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans.

“A patient will spit up bloody sputum,” added Diaz. “That’s what brings them into the doctor’s office.”

He noted that the parasite typically goes for the lungs, but it can end up in the liver.

A female Korean mummy (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
A female Korean mummy from 350 years ago. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

The U.S. CDC said the infection affects “the lungs of humans after eating an infected raw or undercooked crab or crayfish. Less frequent, but more serious cases of paragonimiasis occur when the parasite travels to the central nervous system.”

“Although rare, paragonimiasis has been acquired in the United States, with multiple cases reported from the Midwest. Once the diagnosis is made, effective treatment for paragonimiasis is available from a physician,” according to the CDC.

In all, 18 ancient Korean mummies had at least one parasite, the New Scientist noted.

Research on the mummy was published in the Journal of Parasitology this month.

As many as 300 million people around the world are at risk of infection with Paragonimus, according to several studies, as noted by Haaretz.

In Korea, ancient peoples would lay a body on ice for three to 30 days during a mourning period, and then, the corpse was placed inside an inner and an outer pine coffin in a lime soil mixture. The clothes of the deceased were included.

“The people believed the body should dissolve in a natural manner, without external factors such as worms. This is why they developed a special burial custom,” said Mark Spigelman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, according to Softpedia.

“In some cases, this inadvertently resulted in extremely good natural mummification. They didn’t expect mummification and, in fact, that’s the one thing they wouldn’t want. The unusual Korean burial practice actually led to much better preserved DNA than the artificial mummification practiced in ancient Egypt,” Spigelman added.

According to Softpedia, another mummy was found with a love poem to his wife:

“You always said we would be living together, to die in the same day

However, why did you go to the heaven alone?

Why did you go alone leaving me and our child behind?

I cannot live without you anymore.

I hope I could be with you.

Please let me go with you.

My love to you, it is unforgettable in this world,

and my sorrow, it is without end.”