"It´s a very unpleasant way to die," the Associated Press quoted Dr. Philip Mackowiak as saying Friday. Mackowiak is the director of the Historical Clinicopathological Conference at the University of Maryland medical school.
At the annual conference, doctors apply their diagnostic skills to historical figures whose deaths have not been satisfactorily explained.
Before his death in 4 B.C., Herod suffered an array of symptoms -- intense itching, painful intestinal problems, breathlessness, fever, swelling in the feet, convulsions and, finally, gangrene of the genitalia.
Peter Richardson, a religion professor at the University of Toronto, found the description of Herod´s ailments in the writings of the first-century historian Flavius Josephus.
Fournier´s gangrene, rare today, probably killed Herod, said Dr. Jan Hirschmann of the University of Washington medical school, who examined the case.
The symptom of itching led Hirschmann to conclude Herod suffered from kidney disease. Itching might have led to the gangrene as well, causing Herod to scratch his skin and open it to infectious bacteria.
Many have speculated that Herod had gonorrhea, but Hirschmann said there´s no evidence to support that. Kidney disease may also explain some of Herod´s brutal acts, including the executions of several family members. The untreated accumulation of bodily wastes can result in mental illness.
Herod, fearing the coming of a Messiah after Jesus´ birth, ordered the execution of infant boys in Bethlehem, forcing the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph and the child to flee to Egypt.