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Typhoid Fever, Not Malaria or Poison, May Have Killed Alexander the Great

June 11, 1998

Alexander the Great, long thought to have died from poison or malaria, probably succumbed to typhoid fever, researchers report in today's New England Journal of Medicine. The Macedonian king was drinking heavily in Babylon after a successful campaign when he cried out in pain, saying it felt like he had been hit in the liver by an arrow. He had a raging fever, chills and sweats before falling into a coma and dying 11 days later on June 10, 323 BC. Signs of decomposition were notably absent several days after his death.

Dr. David W. Oldach said those symptoms fit best with typhoid fever, which is spread by contaminated food or drinking water. The sharp pain suggests that the disease perforated his intestine. Typhoid fever can also cause a paralysis accompanied by very slow breathing, which makes the patient appear dead--which may be why the body did not appear to decompose.

Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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