A prepackaged salad can be a tasty, nutritious meal on the go, but one woman got more than she’d bargained for from her veggies: She believes she contracted ascaris worms, a type of parasitic worm that required expensive antibiotics to cure.
“I have struggled with eating disorders my entire life and I was going through a phase where I only ate salads,” TikTok user @jquelly, a woman from Montana named Jacqui, explained on a video shared to the social media platform. “My job required me to bring a lunch every day so I would bring one of these prepackaged salads.”
After a few weeks, Jacqui started getting “really sick,” taking naps every day, and feeling tired all the time. She also had a constant sore stomach, and one day at her son’s basketball practice she went to the bathroom and realized there was something pretty serious going on. At this point in the video, she warned squeamish viewers to look away, before sharing a photo of what ended up in the toilet. “No poop. Only worms,” she said in the clip.
In a second video, Jacqui revealed that things got worse when she realized her insurance didn’t cover the antibiotics she needed to get rid of the worms, which landed her with a $3,000 bill for three pills.
Theresa Fiorito, MD, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Family Travel Clinic at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island, tells Health that ascaris worms are parasitic worms that aren’t often seen in the US. “It’s a roundworm that’s found in warmer climates, in the soil, and you can get sick when you ingest the eggs,” she explains. “But it’s more a disease of the tropics that’s sometimes seen in the southern US—it’s unusual to see it in Montana. “Jacqui’s doctor had the same reaction, telling her he hadn’t seen a case like hers before.
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James J. Lee, MD, gastroenterologist at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Seattle, tells Health that this roundworm can reach the size of 14 inches. “The main infection for the human occurs through ingesting contaminated soil with eggs, the so-called fecal oral route,” he explains. Once in the small intestine, a worm can lay up to 200,000 eggs daily, he adds.
Most people who have parasitic worms are asymptomatic, Dr. Fiorito says. But if you have a serious infection, you can have abdominal pain, malnutrition, and a wide variety of other symptoms. “I once had a patient who vomited worms,” she reveals.
There are a few different ways to treat parasitic worms, but Dr. Fiorito says one of the the most effective is a one-time, one-dose prescription medication, Albendazole. Jacqui didn’t reveal what anti-parasitic med she took, but she told Buzzfeed that the pills worked really fast. “Within 2–3 days, I didn’t see any more worms in my stool,” she said. “The stomach aches went away within that time as well.”
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Left untreated, the worm can get larger and cause intestinal blockage, Dr. Fiorito warns. “In children, it can cause malnutrition and growth delays, including intellectual delays,” she adds. To avoid getting infected, her advice is simple: “Wash that produce!” Because ascaris worms are pretty resistant to environmental stressors in the soil, produce needs to be washed well to be safe to eat. Apparently this didn’t happen with the bagged salad Jacqui ate, and when she consumed it, her body became a worm host.
Jacqui stressed that her intention isn’t to demonize any particular brand of salad, but to encourage people to talking about their health issues with their doctor, even the ones that seem gross. She added that she hopes people take several messages from her story: Pay attention to your body, have an open line of communication with your doctor, and wash your produce…even if it says it’s pre-washed.
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