WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Medical and genetic experts in Poland say a heart infection caused by a common skin bacteria may have killed Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish and American national hero and military leader, in 1817.
Experts said last month that they found the Cutibacterium acne genome in wax, wood and linen that had prolonged contact with tissues from Kosciuszko’s heart, which has been preserved. They said it could have caused endocarditis, or inflammation within the heart, and his death, aged 71, in Switzerland.
The team was led by Prof. Michał Witt, director of the human genetics institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznan, and Dr. Tadeusz Dobosz of the Medical University of Wroclaw. They took the samples for their molecular tests from a container where the heart is kept, in the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
Under some conditions, bacteria on the skin can attack internal organs, including the heart, leading to very serious problems, Witt told Polish radio Zet24.
He stressed that it is difficult to say for sure what caused Kosciuszko’s death, but that their findings led them to the “rationality-based hypothesis” that it was acne bacteria that caused the documented rapid decline in his health and his death.
Previously, it was believed that typhoid fever or pneumonia had killed Kosciuszko. It is said that he developed a high fever and chills after falling off his horse into a cold stream.
Born in 1746 in the then Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Kosciuszko fought as a colonel in the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War of 1776. A military engineer and architect, he designed and supervised the construction of America’s fortifications, including West Point.
Back in restless Poland, in 1794 he led an ill-fated uprising against the Russian Empire, which was annexing some of Poland’s land. He spent his last years in Switzerland.
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