Imagine going to the doctor for unexplained stomach pains and end up having a 6-feet worm pulled out of your mouth. This chill-inducing scenario was exactly what happened to a 48-year-old man in India.
The patient presented to doctors with what he described as “tolerable” stomach pains. Doctors were suspicious to learn that this pain had persisted for almost 2 months. Furthermore, the patient’s blood tests showed low hemoglobin levels.
Then, the colonoscopy revealed the culprit – a tapeworm. "It was an undulating, moving piece of the worm, " said Dr. Cyriac Phillips, one of the treating physicians and the lead author on this case report. "This worm segment was confirmation that there was a tapeworm infestation in this patient." But doctors had no idea just how big the tapeworm would be.
The team decided next to perform an endoscopy, whereby they inserted a camera into the patient’s stomach to view the intestines. Guided by the camera, the team was able to pull the worm from his intestines out through his mouth.
"We had absolutely no idea regarding the length of this worm," Phillips said. "It kept on coming. We pulled at it softly and steadily, and ultimately the job was done after maybe around 1 hour and 15 minutes. I have never seen a tapeworm this long before this particular case."
At the end of the operation, doctors measured the tapeworm, classified as Taenia solium, at a shuddering 6.1 feet (1.88 meters). As extreme as this case may be, the 48-year-old man is not the record holder for hosting the longest tapeworm. That title belongs to Sally Mae Wallace from whom doctors removed a tapeworm that was 37 feet in length. A recent honorable mention would be a Chinese man from whom doctors extracted a 20-foot tapeworm in 2016.
The man likely contracted the tapeworm through consuming pork contaminated with worm eggs. He was sent home with medications intended to kill any remaining eggs that may still be in his body.
While this was an extreme case, human infections by these wriggly, squirmy parasites are not that uncommon, especially in developing parts of the world with poor sanitation. It's estimated that nearly 3 billion people are infected with the large roundworm, the hookworm or the whipworm. Fortunately, prompt removal and anti-parasitic drugs help the majority of these cases before they get worse.