We've all heard rather goose-bump-inducing stories of people coming back from vacation with mysterious and unfortunate ailments. There was a highly rumored story in my high school, for example, that a boy once came home from a semester abroad with a blister, which popped open and had bugs coming out of it. It sounds like the stuff of urban legend, but these things can be all too real. This week, the internet told such a story with some pretty gnarly visual proof, when photos of Katie Stephens and Eddie Zytner's foot worms were posted on Facebook following their trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Yes, Canadian couple Stephens, 22, and Zytner, 25, returned from their trip, which featured some romantic strolls along the beach, with suspiciously itchy feet — an early symptom of what would turn out to be foot worms, or cutaneous larva migrans, a parasitic infection better known as hookworms. The couple initially believed the itches to be bug bites, but the irritation got much worse after a few days, eventually erupting into a much more severe condition. The couple soon noticed major swelling, bumps, and blisters on their feet. According to CTV News, after the couple went to the hospital, they saw three different doctors before they were able to correctly diagnose the issue and begin a course of treatment. The doctor who finally did diagnose the couple had recently seen a similar case with another international traveler.
The condition occurs when hookworms penetrate unbroken skin, and honestly, it looks just as awful as it sounds.
For a bit of background, hookworms are found mostly in tropical and subtropical environments, as well as the southern region of the U.S., but because of international travel, they're no longer contained to these areas alone. The earliest cases of this particular strain of parasite date back over 100 years, according to Medscape. The worms can be contracted from warm, moist sand into and through the skin, which is basically what happened to Zytner and Stephens on their vacation.
Zytner told the Windsor Star,
I have dozens of worms in my feet, and so does Katie. It’s kind of sickening to think about.
Zytner added, "It’s pretty gross. It’s something living in your body that’s not supposed to be there.”
As for treatment of the worms, according to CTV News, the couple had to make quite an effort to locate an uncommon drug called ivermectin, which apparently isn't licensed in Canada, where the couple lives. Zytner's mother drove to America in order to obtain the drug. Someone please give that woman Mom Of The Year award ASAP.
The thing is, these types of worms can't live very long in the human body, so the infection can be treated early at the first signs of itching. But if it's left untreated for too long, like in Stephens and Zytner's case, blisters and ruptures develop and indicate where in the skin the worms "roamed." Daniel Caplivski, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Cosmopolitan that he recommends wearing shoes to protect your feet whenever you walk on the beach, just to be safe.
Hear that, folks? Always keep those slip-ons on your feet at the beach, even if you love that feeling of sand between your toes. My hunch is you probably don't like the feeling of blisters between your toes, right?
Although certainly difficult to look at, the couple's intention in sharing the photos on Facebook with the public was to raise awareness of the possibility of infection while traveling, and to recognize the symptoms early enough so that, should you ever go through the same thing, you know to act fast and seek help ASAP. Better safe than sorry, right?
Currently, the couple is beginning to recover, but they are walking with crutches in the meantime. We wish them a speedy recovery, as well as a heartfelt thank you for spreading awareness, despite the, you know, difficult nature of the images.
Now, who's buying water shoes before spring break?