A teenager was spending a day at the beach in South Florida doing what many of us do at the beach – enjoying the sun, feeling the sand between our toes, and asking friends to bury us in the sand. The teen developed small red bumps on his skin soon after he returned home. The itchy spots spread to his feet, legs, and backside. It turns out the teen had a particularly nasty case of hookworms.
His mother, Kelli Dumas, describes the situation: “I can’t stress enough how traumatic it is for a teenage boy — and his mother — to know that there are worms living in his body.” Several of the teens friends also contracted hookworms, which makes the situation even more disgusting.
How does sand get contaminated with hookworms? Animals or humans infected with the super gross worms defecate into sand or soil, and “because their feces carry the parasite’s eggs, the ground then becomes contaminated.” They can penetrate the skin and meander into the bloodstream. The microscopic larvae “roam around in the person’s skin — causing those red, squiggly marks — trying, but unable, to mature or to reproduce.
Dumas goes so far as to recommend the following:
“Never walk barefoot on a beach again. Never be buried in the sand or allow someone else to…I can assure you, no one knows to wear shoes on the beach.”
Hookworms are gross but usually not serious. The most common symptoms are itchy skin and a rash, and can be treated with medication. The parasite may even die on its own, and most people do not usually feel it move inside their skin. So throw caution to the wind and continue walking barefoot on the beach! Let me know what happens.
National Geographic reports that a teenager in Australia swallowed a slug on a dare. It left him in a coma for more than a year and paralyzed from the neck down. This is nauseating to even type, but don’t eat slugs. Aside from the obvious vomit inducing reasons, they could carry the brain infesting rat lungworm.
Rat lungworm is found in Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, and the southern U.S. It’s also starting to spread to new places. Hawaii reported six cases over three months last year, where it had previously reported only two cases in the last ten years. According to the Hawaii Department of Health, rat lungworm is a disease the affects the brain and spinal cord. It’s a type of roundworm that is only found in rodents but can be passed through their larvae:
Snails, slugs, and certain other animals (including freshwater shrimp, land crabs, and frogs) can become infected by ingesting this larvae…Humans can become infected with A. cantonensis if they eat (intentionally or otherwise) a raw or undercooked infected intermediate host, thereby ingesting the parasite.
The infection can can cause a rare type of meningitis which can lead to brain damage, paralysis, or stroke. Some people may show no symptoms while others may have severe symptoms. They may include severe headache, neck stiffness, tingling or painful feelings of the skin or extremities, and light sensitivity. Symptoms generally last two to eight weeks. There is no specific treatment for rat lungworm.
If people dare you to eat bugs, gastropods, or other unsightly creatures, just say no. Or as National Geographic says, “As rat lungworm reaches new parts of the world, experts say we’re the ones who are going to have to adapt. And a good first step is not eating raw gastropods.”
At this point, I don’t think anyone really wants to read any more about worms in people’s eyes, but here we are. A Florida man had eye surgery to remove a “brain-eating parasitic worm that was living in his eye.”
The parasitic worm, Taenia solium, swam through the man’s bloodstream from his stomach to his eye, likely caused by under-cooked pork the man ate around Christmas. Months later he started seeing black dots, a sign the worm had moved into his eye. The doctor that treated him is quoted as saying:
“If the parasite dies the inflammation could blind Cordero, if it lays some of its 50000 eggs they could travel to his brain and begin eating it turning it basically into swiss cheese. Thankfully that didn’t happen.”
Is it comforting to know this kind of thing is relatively rare in the United States? According to the CDC, “the number of new cases in the U.S. each year is probably less than 1000.” And “eye infections with pork tapeworms are rare: Only about 20 such cases have been reported worldwide.” Also, properly cooking meat to an internal temperature between 145° F for pork and 165° F for chicken kills the parasite.
I nearly vomited at least twice reading about a woman, Abby Beckley, who discovered worms in her eyes and pulled them out one by one. Beckley is from Oregon and spends time around cattle and horses. She first noticed the worms crawling across her eye when she was working on a fishing boat in Alaska, and thought they might be worms from salmon. Initially, doctors were skeptical about Beckley’s eye worm claims and couldn’t see them.
“I felt one squiggle across my eye, and I told the doctors, ‘You need to look right now!’ ” Beckley said. “I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they saw it move across my eye.”
Beckley repeatedly visited the doctors in an attempt to flush the worms out of her eyes, but they kept reappearing, and she continued to remove them herself, pulling them one at a time from her eye.
The worst part, she says, was wondering what the worms might do to her body, “so close to my brain and eyes.”
Samples were sent off to the CDC who finally identified the worm species as Thelazia gulosa. They are unique to cattle and have never been found in a human eye before, as far as we know. A CDC worker described the discovery as “really exciting” saying “that it is a new species that has never infected people before. It’s a cattle worm that somehow jumped into a human.” Yes, really exciting indeed.
The treatment, doctors told Beckley, was to continue removing any worms she found herself:
Twenty days after pulling the first worm from her eye, Beckley discovered the final wiggling worm. Once that was out, her ordeal was over. She knows because she’s not found another since. Her vision remains good, with no other complications.
All in all, a great ending to a truly nauseating story.