Too many worms


A North Korean soldier who was shot while fleeing across the border has an extremely high level of parasites in his intestines, his doctors say.

The defector crossed the demilitarised zone on Monday, but was shot several times by North Korean border guards.

Doctors say the patient is stable – but “an enormous number” of worms in his body are contaminating his wounds and making his situation worse.

His condition is thought to give a rare insight into life in North Korea.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 20 years as a physician,” South Korean doctor Lee Cook-jong told journalists, explaining that the longest worm removed from the patient’s intestines was 27cm (11in) long.

How did he get them? Probably via food grown with untreated human intestinal output.

Humans can get parasites through eating contaminated food, by being bitten by an insect or by the parasite entering through the skin.

In the case of the North Korean defector, the first case is most likely. Parasites which enter the body via contaminated food are often worms.

The soldier’s food may have been contaminated because the North still uses human faeces as fertiliser, known as “night soil”.

Lee Min-bok, a North Korean agriculture expert, told Reuters: “Chemical fertiliser was supplied by the state until the 1970s. By the 1990s, the state could not supply it any more, so farmers started to use a lot of night soil instead.”

If these faeces are untreated and fertilise vegetables that are later eaten uncooked, the parasites get into the mouth and the intestines of the person.

Night soil is a good idea if it’s treated, but ya gotta treat it.

While some don’t cause any severe symptoms, others can be life-threatening, explains Prof Peter Preiser from the School of Biological Sciences at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“What they all do is take nutrients away from your body,” he told the BBC. “So [even] if most of them might go unnoticed, they all indicate a poor health status. To put it simply: people who have parasites are not healthy.”

And they don’t feel all that wonderful.

It’s pretty tragic.

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