'Bundles' of Live Worms Discovered Inside Four Year-old Boy's Stomach, Feeding Off His Small Bowel Contents

Surgeons had to remove bundles of live worms from the body of a 4-year-old boy after his small bowel became infested with parasites.

The boy, from the rural area of Menchum Division, northwest Cameroon, arrived at hospital after suffering from stomach pains for three days, as well as vomiting and severe constipation, according to a case study published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports.

His mother told doctors her son's stomach had began to swell over the past six months, in what medics call abdominal distention.

Tests revealed the boy's small bowel was dilated and blocked up by "bundles of live worms," the doctors wrote in the case study. The patient was also diagnosed with malnutrition, likely caused by the worms feeding off the nutrients in his small bowel.

Surgeons manually removed the tangle of Ascaris lumbricoides, or giant roundworms, by "milking" an opening made in his intestine.

The boy recovered from his operation without any complications, and was discharged after seven days. He returned to the hospital for a check-up a week later, where doctors found his abdominal wound was healing well and his bowel movements were normal.

Ascariasis parasite roundworm Cameroon
A bundle of Ascaris lumbricoides worms removed from inside a 4-year-old boy. Journal of Medical Case Reports

Medics learned the boy had never been dewormed, and prescribed him and each member of his family with a single dose of mebendazole, a drug used to kill parasites. People living in high-risk countries should be dewormed twice, or at least once, a year, the authors wrote.

Ascariasis is the most common parasitic worm infection in the world. Up to 1.2 billion people in the world are thought to be infected with the parasite, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The worms mostly infest the bodies of children aged between 2 and 10 years of age, and are passed on through contaminated soil, usually in moist, warm climates with poor hygiene and sanitation practices. The worm's eggs live in an infected person's intestines, and are spread if the feces gets into the soil—for example, when a person defecates outside, or their feces is used to fertilize land. Unwitting individuals can ingest the eggs if they eat infected food fruits and vegetables, or touch infected soil and put their hands in their mouth.

Most people don't experience any symptoms. But if a person is heavily infested for a long period of time, the worms can trigger severe complications as they feed off the contents of the small bowel, according to the authors. The parasites can cause malnutrition and blocked intestines, and children can also struggle with physical and cognitive development. Some may find they cough as the worms move inside them.

The worms are uncommon in the U.S., according to the CDC.