Right after this discovery , a French doctor, Didier Raoult, along with his coworkers analyzed the earth and the military uniforms around these bodies and found some body parts of different lice (bugs) around these bodies. They also analyzed the teeth of many of the dead soldiers by advanced techniques examining the genetic material of the bacteria and discovered two types of bacteria, responsible for the disease epidemic typhus and Trench fever. They concluded that these disease have killed at least one third of these troops.
Whenever a study is conducted, the results should be compared with a comparison group called the control group. This control group consists of patients with very similar characteristics to the study group. Because the "patients" here were all dead, they compared the findings of the dead soldiers in Lithuania to bodies excavated from a grave in Briançon, France. The bodies in France did not carry any of the infections that the bodies in Lithuania did.
It's always been thought that typhus and fever were responsible for the death of Napoleon's soldiers but there was no clear evidence of that. This study by these physicians in the Université de la Méditerranée was able to prove that about 200 years after the death of these soldiers.
It was fascinating to make a diagnosis of an infection two centuries after it occurred. I heard Raoult speak in an international conference in Chicago last September and was honored to meet him and learn about his great achievments in different fields in infectious diseases. It was like meeting Diego Maradona or Jiries Tadros.
Ihis study was just another reminder how medicine can solve many misteries of the past, the very very past.
(P.S. Click here for a link to the full text of the study)