There are many illnesses that a traveler can encounter while on the road. Most people are familiar with malaria, hepatitis, and yellow fever, a vaccination for which is required to travel in many countries. Lesser known are some truly terrifying (and disgusting) organisms that give travel health disaster a whole new meaning. You are unlikely to come across these creatures, but if you do, they could surely ruin your trip.
We start with the Candiru, a small member of the catfish family. These toothpick sized fish, native to the Amazon River, are notorious parasites that have been reported to find their way into the orifices of human beings such as the nostrils, mouth and ears. There has even been a case where this little parasite has found its way up the urethra of a unfortunate man who was urinating while swimming in the Amazon River. Once inside you, these little buggers begin to feed on your flesh and blood, growing in size. The most common and effective way to remove these monsters from your body is surgery, a less than appealing option when you have one up your urethra or anus. Enjoy your swim!
2. Giant Roundworm (Ascariasis)
Lets give a big welcome to the first member of the worm family to make our list! These little, parasitic devils will happily make themselves right at home inside of your intestines and lungs. The eggs of these worms are usually found in feces, which unfortunately seems to find its way to our mouths all too often because of improper hygiene after using the bathroom and when preparing food. Once inside of you, these eggs hatch into larvae, eat their way through your intestinal wall, make their way up into your lungs, grow in your respiratory sacs, get coughed up and re-swallowed, and then finally return to the land of their birth and attach to your intestinal wall. There these bad boys begin to feed on your blood growing in size rapidly. You probably wouldn’t even know you had one of these until you literally find one in your vomit or feces, what a wonderful surprise! There are cases where a mass infestation can occur. There was a case of a two year old South African girl whose autopsy revealed around 800 round worms in her intestines, weighing in at about 18 ounces.
3. Human Botfly
Now things get real crazy. These large flies just love having their larvae feed and grow on a human host. Native to the Americas, ranging from Mexico to Northern Argentina, these larvae usually find their way into humans via a mosquito. When these eggs come in contact with our warm, tasty skin, they begin to burrow deep inside of our flesh. While inside these guys begin feed on our muscle tissue, growing in size for about eight weeks. During this time, the larva that is feeding on you, will pop out of a gaping hole it was made in your body to breathe and to poop.
The way to get rid of these guys is to cover the hole, starving them of oxygen, when you remove the cover they pop out to the surface and you pluck them right out. Oh, did I mention that they have black barbs on them to hold them in place inside of you? Well they do, so yeah, have fun with that. Enjoy the video if you are not the squeamish sort. Wear your bug spray!
What’s that you say? You were starting to miss parasitic worms? Well look who just showed up, it’s the tapeworm! Once again, we’ve got a worm that just loves living in feces, loves to be eaten by pigs and cattle, and loves to be passed into humans via infected beef and pork. These guys average 3 to 5 meters long but have been known to get as long as 20 meters! They’ve been known to get so big that it is possible to see them moving under your skin with the naked eye. These guys get in your intestine and just lounge about growing and growing over decades. They grow fast and they grow big. These bad boys can be picked up anywhere, but are most common in places with poor hygiene. Be mindful of the meat you buy and eat unless you are looking for a new friend for the next 20-25 years.
5. Filarial Worms and Filariasis
Let’s just keep rolling along with the worms. Up next we have filarial worms, which are types of roundworms. Located mainly in Australia, Africa, Asia, South America, and the Philippines, there are several different types of these worms that infect different parts of the human body. We are concerned here with the worms that attack the lymphatic system. Everyone’s heard of Elephantitis and the Elephant Man. Well did you know that that disease can be caused by a worm? Usually what happens is this: an insect eats feces that have the filarial worm eggs in them, a mosquito drinks the blood from that insect and takes some of the eggs with it, that same mosquito comes over and drinks from me, and BOOM! I’ve got filarial worm eggs in my blood stream. When these guys latch onto my lymph nodes they begin letting off an antigen that makes my lymphatic system go crazy. It stops working as well as it should and eventually leads to swelling of tissue and inflammation. Elephantitis can occur if not properly treated.
6. Loa Loa
Alright, the image says it all, this is another worm in the Filarial family that literally travels through your body, including your eyeball. These guys get in your body if you are bitten by a deer or horse fly and just start cruising through your subcutaneous tissue. It’ll eventually make its way up to your face and will cross through you subconjuctival tissue, which basically feels absolutely miserable. It is also quite unsettling to feel a worm crawling across your eye, so if this scares you, be mindful of those big horse flies when traveling in tropical regions.
7. Guinea Worm
Lastly, we have this terrible parasite. If you haven’t read Phil’s post on guinea worm yet, go check it out as it goes into great detail on this terrifying worm. The basics are that this guy only remains in Ghana, Sudan, Mali and Ethiopia. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is an excruciating parasite that can grow up to three feet long inside of you and it only comes out by causing an extremely painful blister. It then slips its head out of that blister looking to lay its eggs. It’s at this point that things get really fun. You have to grab the worm and pull it out very slowly, sometimes taking several weeks to pull it completely out of your body. The only way you get this parasite is by drinking dirty water, so stick to treated or boiled water while traveling in these countries.
As stated above, many of these little guys, as well as many other nasty parasites and organisms, enter your body via bad water. That is why it is so important that you drink clean water, and if you do not have access to pure water, to properly treat your water. Check out this post for more tips and ways to treat water while traveling abroad. Guinea Worm photo credit prep4md. Other photos courtesy of Wikipedia.