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7 Terrifying Small Organisms That Can Mess you up

terrifying small organisms and parasites
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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.

1. Candiru

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!

4. Tapeworm

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.

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{ 25 comments… add one }

  • Sebastian @ Off-The-Path.com November 17, 2011, 4:09 am

    Holy Moly that is discussing!! Thx for sharing!

  • Andrew September 24, 2012, 10:22 am

    Very informative, I wanted to find out about the Candiru catfish and got more than what I’d bargained for.

  • kate October 11, 2012, 4:30 pm

    this is very interesting but agine wirred umm but thank u for leting mii know wat type of worms are there in the world THANK YOU SO MUCH

  • jordan November 27, 2012, 10:03 am

    i had that catfish in my peepee once

    • phil April 28, 2013, 10:30 pm

      are you sure about that?

  • amb April 29, 2013, 1:11 am

    I just heard this incredible story about a young man 32 that apparently swallowed a toothpick went to the doctor a day later complaining about stomach pains not telling the Doctor what happen, so the Dr. told he most likely ate something bad. A couple of days later he is now suffering Kidney pains . I don’t now if it was the same Dr. but he has been told he probably is passing some Kidney stones and if he still has the pain in a few days to get back and they may have to do some further treatment. And now comes the incredible part a day later this young man claims to have peed the toothpick out of his penis ???? This is to my understanding completely impossible , unless the toothpick made its way through the intestine wall traveled through the blood stream into the Kidneys and then end up somehow in the urethra !!! Please check that with a Dr. and find out if something like that can actually happen. I am very sceptic.

    • phil April 29, 2013, 8:26 am

      I am also very skeptical of this 😉

  • carol July 2, 2014, 10:46 am

    hello I was wondering I know worms can leave your body through your butt I was wondering can they leave you also by your .pee? if so how do you treat it.can it be painful? thanks ahead of time ” Carol”

    • phil July 2, 2014, 12:45 pm

      Hello Carol,
      Unfortunately, you will need to be more specific. It really depends on the type of parasite. For example, both tapeworms and pinworms can exit the body through the anus. We are not aware of a worm that can exit the body through urination. Treatment varies depending on the parasite, and if you have observed a worm exiting your body from anywhere, you should see a doctor immediately.

  • Martin February 8, 2015, 3:13 pm


    I have heard that the tannis cid in tea can destroy worms. Is this true? Like to know if it works.


  • Martin February 8, 2015, 3:17 pm

    Sorry, that was badly written. I was referring to tannic acid in tea.

    Thank you

    • phil February 9, 2015, 2:35 am

      Hi Martin,

      We are not aware of anything like this. In any case, I don’t know if it would necessarily be a reliable method. The problem with teas and the like is that it can be very difficult to accurately dose the active ingredient.

  • Emmanuel February 9, 2015, 4:37 pm

    This is of great help but really scary too.

  • Clinton Zalek May 7, 2015, 9:34 am

    Currently I have self discovered that I am living with larva of the bot fly. I think I caught it last summer toward the end when I was vacationing brad the border of Mexico it started as a rash on my chin’s which my doctor treated as eczema. Currently I’ve been to 6 different emergency rooms as the base of my neck is numb and I have larva crawling in and out of my skin and my left foot joint is extremely painful. I lost my last primary care physician because of healthcare change my new PCP thought I had scabies. I was misdiagnosed, which is when I went to the 1st emergency room the attending still says I have about a case of eczema no one will touch me in the emergency room no one examines me on one visit to community Memorial in Long Beach young female doctor said that I was crazy and just picking my skin when I was trying to show her what it happened with the Larva and when they are coming out. She proceeded to the hallway and said there was nothing we could do for me and emergency rooms were for emergencies and I did not have an emergency then I heard her laughing in the hallway with colleagues. They didn’t even address the open and bleeding wounds on my arms I quietly gathered my things my Bible of visits to doctors and yours and left this at my car and weep. Which was when I finally decided to look it up myself googling I typed in parasites that live in the skin in America. The three common came about and then I skip to the next one and it spoke of the botfly it was everything that I had it was the larger that I try to cut out that would not come out of my skin because of its hooklike legs. Currently I am seeing a dermatologist in awaiting swabs testing results. I think he was in shock when he seen the wounds but doesn’t believe that it’s botfly. The little larva are everywhere I feel them crawling in becoming active at night I see them there in my car seat they’re everywhere they’re in the bottom of my shoes I don’t know what I’m going to do I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to do this it’s going to be a year

    • Lauren February 28, 2017, 5:30 am

      Hello Caleb,
      I, too, am trying to survive living with an infestation of botflies. I visited a rainforest in Mexico last summer and about 4,months later began exhibiting symptoms of worms in my fingers tips. I was deemed delusional by my friends, family, and doctors but I will not succumb to that diagnosis, especially when there is evidence to back up the truth of the matter, yet no evidence to say that I do not have this or any parasite.
      So… this could be really long but I will try to make it short by saying that at one time I believed I had morgellos (fibers, worms, crystals, cut that didn’t heal normally & black specs), then it changed to what looked to me under the microscope as pineorm and / or roundworm, well that lasted a few weeks then I noticed that they looked more like hookworm. I was puzzled and thought the answer was that I had contracted all of these parasites, being more suceptable to a second & a third after contracting the 1st. The worms seemed to completely disappear and I almost concluded that I had Morgellons again when I noted black spots underneath all of my nails. Then, the answer hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw very small black and whitish, “bugs,” working their way out of my skin and flying away. I could suffocate them and they would tear through my skin wherever possible to breath. When using tweezers to remove the, “black spots,” they seemed to vibrate very fast between and around the fingers of the tweezers, so fast that they were only a translucent blur, almost invisible to the untrained eye. After putting them in tape or in a plastic bag they would fly through the bag with ease, leaving my evidence bag close to empty and me looking like a lunatic with outlandish stories to get attention. Believe me, this is NOT the kind of attention I would ever desire.
      Anyway, there’s a lot more to the story. I was just wondering if any of those details sound familiar to you being you are going through the same battle. I, too, feel that Icant go on like this much longer. I wish I had even just a very small support system. I am at a loss.
      I hope you are doing better & hope to hear back from you!

      Lonely Lauren

      • bit March 25, 2017, 7:31 pm

        Listen….find a good dermatologist….get a prescription for xanex….I know…they say it’s some kind of nerve condition….don’t argue….lol just take the xanex which helps with the anxiety and also makes it stop. (really)

  • Miss Kitty September 3, 2015, 11:01 am

    Lots of good info but I noticed a glaring bit of misinformation. Joseph Merrick. .. a.k.a. “The Elephant Man” did not have Elephantitis, nor anything parasitic condition at all. He had a rare congenital disease called Proteus Syndrome which causes severe deformities of the bones. The awful name he was called stems from the fact that his nose deformity supposedly partially resembled an elephant’s trunk, and also the disease caused his skin to become thick and like an elephant’s.

  • Pamela September 23, 2015, 12:45 am

    Is it possible to be infected by the Candira living in the US? I swear i have removed not one, but two of these catfish from my belly where the skin has been torn and stabbed over but becomes like a blob of jellyfish. I have photo’s of the 2nd one feasting on my belly with multiple pic’s and a dehydrated fish, i did tear it’s head off while removing it and putting it in a glass jar to show my Dr. Any information would be helpful 4438664657

    • phil September 23, 2015, 12:02 pm

      No, there is no population of candiru in the US. Even if there were, it would be nearly impossible for what you describe to be an example of it. Are you sure it was not a leech?

  • Mary Rowe February 11, 2016, 12:36 pm

    I had something crawling on me at a cheap hotel and then they preferred my pubic area. They then crawled into my rectum, vagina and other orifices of my body. They live in clothes and come back to your body and crawl and bite.

  • Mary Rowe February 11, 2016, 12:39 pm

    I can not see these little crawlers. I first felt hundreds of them crawling on me when I tried to sleep in a cheap hotel room a friend paid for in Miami. So I could see my half sister. Then they live in my clothes, pubic area and moved into the orifices of my body. Second comment, a clarification!

    • miss Estevan June 6, 2016, 9:44 am

      That sounds like exactly like roundworms, they live in exactly what you stated. first thing first buy as many lysol cans as you can, spray all colthes and shoes and bag tightly, boil wash clothes before and after your shower, wipe every thing down with clorox and water. good luck

      • BJ July 18, 2016, 1:11 pm

        How do I get rid of the round warn in which crawls in the surface of my arms , I blow them out my nose , they also come out when I use the toilet out my behind is there a pill I can take for these little devils

  • John Smith May 3, 2016, 9:35 pm

    Thank you for the nightmare fuel!

  • Dani October 27, 2017, 12:18 pm

    I have had a feeling like something was in my ear for a long time. I also have had a really bad pain 8n my neck especially if I would put pressure on the back vertebrae just bellow my cerebral cortex. It hurt in my throat. I have had instances where I have coughed up really whit thick chunks. They have been very far between. I have coughed these things up twice in the last couple days. It is really stinky stuff. Anyway I coughed something up and was expecting more whit stuff instead it was a fly. It looks like it has been there for some time. It has eggs coming out of it. Now the pain in my neck is relieved except a little soreness. I’m freaking out. I have coughed up two little white things. Could I have fly’s living in me?

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