Imagine going to the toilet and finding a giant tapeworm sharing your bowel experience? That’s exactly what happened to Kritsada Ratprachoom from Udon Thani in north eastern Thailand on 10 December 2019. After relieving himself and reaching for the toilet roll, he noticed he was not alone. Alive and wriggling, a worm that measured a whopping 9.7 metres in length had made its debut. While many of us would never dare even think of sharing the creepy and disgusting events with the wider public, Ratprachoom was quite impressed with the sizeable parasite that he shared photos of it on social media.
“I had felt something sticking out of my rear the whole day before. After going to the toilet I felt like I wasn’t finished defecating, like something was left. While wiping myself I managed to yank the worm free,” he says. “It felt sticky and stretchy. Ratprachoom took photos of it before giving it the flush.
Tapeworms are bizarre parasites that latch onto the lining of animals’ guts, and humans, too, and absorb the nutrients floating by. With no heads and no intestines of their own, they can stretch from a hundredth of an inch to 30 metres in length. Eating undercooked meat from infected animals is the main cause of tapeworm infection in people. There are reportedly nearly 5 000 species of tapeworm, including 215 species that are newly discovered. Although tapeworms in humans usually cause few symptoms and are easily treated, they can sometimes cause serious, life-threatening problems. Tape worms have a super high affinity for vitamin B12 and can cause anaemia, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and general weakness.
Last year, a California man pulled a shockingly large tapeworm from his body, which he believes he contracted from eating sushi. The man went to the emergency room and told doctors that he was experiencing bloody diarrhoea. Doctors extracted a tapeworm measuring 1.7 metres.
Earlier this year, 42-year-old Rachel Palma of New York visited her doctor after suffering short-term amnesia. At first they thought it could be a malignant brain tumour, but when doctors performed surgery to remove the lesion, they found a large egg, which was filled with baby tapeworms. Palma was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis, a parasitic disease that occurs when a person ingests microscopic eggs from a pork tapeworm. When the eggs hatch, the larvae can travel throughout the body, including to the brain, muscles, skin and eyes, where they form cysts. Although the larvae can travel anywhere in the body, they have a particular affinity for the brain because of the organ’s robust blood supply.