Prepare yourself. Make sure you aren't eating anything with a strange texture that could potentially induce a gag reflex (looking at you, yogurt), and it's probably best to keep reading only if you aren't about to go to sleep. The photos of a worm moving around inside a woman's face are pure nightmare fuel, and at the very least, looking at them will probably send shivers down your spine. At worst, you'll start to feel paranoid that every single bump on your skin is actually a worm masquerading as a pimple. Don't say I didn't warn you, OK?
According to a new report from The New England Journal of Medicine, an unnamed, 32-year-old woman noticed there was a tiny, moving shape in her face, and she eventually discovered it was a freaking worm living beneath her skin. If this isn't the stuff of nightmares, then I don't know what is.
The journal's report says the woman went to an ophthalmologist after about two weeks of noticing strange bumps moving to different places in her face.
At first, she noticed a strange shape underneath her left eye, which then moved above her left eye about five days later. Then, about 10 days after that, she woke up to find extreme swelling on her top lip.
The woman took pictures of these bumps each time they moved, and although she reported experiencing an occasional burning sensation and some itching, no other symptoms accompanied these bizarre little shapes beneath her skin.
After she received a physical exam, it was noted in The New England Journal of Medicine's report that there was a moving, elongated nodule near the upper eyelid of her left eye. And then, a freaking parasite was secured by a pair of forceps and surgically removed. Thankfully, the report noted, the woman made a full recovery and wasn't hurt at all in the process of removing the worm from her face.
So aside from being completely and utterly horrified by these photos and this woman's experience, you might be wondering a) how in the hell something like this happened, and b) whether or not it could happen to you, me, or any of us, really.
Well, rest assured, it's not really likely that you'll just wake up one day with a surprise worm living inside your face. In this particular instance, there was rural travel involved, which seems to often be the case when people randomly find parasites living in their body. According to the report on her case, the 32-year-old woman said she'd recently traveled to "a rural area" outside of Moscow, Russia, and noted that while she was there, she was frequently bitten by several mosquitos.
The parasite was identified by the medical professionals that treated the woman as something called Dirofilaria repens, and according to The New England Journal of Medicine, these gross little guys typically take up residence in dogs' or other carnivores' bodies, and they can indeed be transmitted via mosquito bites.
The medical report states that humans can become hosts to these parasites, and while past research has found that this doesn't really happen much in the U.S., there's a somewhat alarming number of similar cases documented around the world: According to research from 2017 on these types of parasites, "more than 3500 human cases were reported in Europe from 1977 to 2016." It's not exactly a huge number, especially over the course of 40 years, but it's not really small either, is it? Plus, the researchers themselves wrote in that 2017 report that "the number of human cases in Europe and Asia is currently a serious public health concern." So, you know, there's that.
What's somewhat comforting is that there doesn't seem to be a huge health risk even if you do discover one of these parasites living in your body. According to a CDC Travelers' Health report on Dirofilaria repens, people who find this parasite in their body typically experience "local swellings with changing localization" (meaning it moves around your body, which you saw from the woman's photos), and only "rare cases of organ manifestation have been reported." Maybe "comforting" isn't the right word, but perhaps the nightmare fuel isn't quite as strong as I thought? I don't know, guys.
Hopefully I haven't traumatized you too much with this news. Like I said, the case report stated this woman made a full recovery, so there was a happy ending here when all's said and done.
If you plan to travel to Europe, Asia, or I guess even Moscow anytime soon, while you probably have nothing to worry about (again, the research says these parasites don't really tend to invade humans' bodies), it might not be a bad idea to pack a few extra cans of bug spray.