An unpleasant story. But it happens. Warning: icky.
Doctors removed a live 5-centimeter leech from the windpipe of a 7-year-old girl, yunnan.cn reported on Thursday.
The girl from the city of Zhaotong in Southwest China’s Yunnan province was recovering after being rushed by her parents to Kunming Children’s Hospital on Monday having difficulty breathing, a doctor told the provincial news portal.
She reported throat pain for months. It was certainly getting worse as the bloodsucking segmented worm grew. Leeches can latch on to humans when people venture into their habitat of swamps, ponds or even moist terrestrial environments. It is suspected this child ingested the leech by drinking presumably untreated tap water. She would have had to inhale it, though. It was not in her esophagus (assuming the translation is correct). But leeches can also go up nose; it may have been in inhaled water. It’s obviously a rare thing though it has happened before and likely more often than we know of.
Just on a whim, I checked Pub Med. That was a mistake. This is documented in the literature. Here is a case of another 7 yr old child from Ethiopia. The boy exhibited blood stained saliva and shortness of breath. He was taken to the Jimma University Specialized Hospital Department of Pediatrics and Child health on May 29, 2012. A laryngeoscopy was done and what is described as looking like a blood clot was seen in the upper trachea. Then it moved. The doctor was able to remove the 6 cm animal with forceps and the patient recovered with no complications. The parasite had come from the local spring shared with people and animals.
In another case, from Tanzania, a child also ingested a leech that caused her to experience severe anemia. A small lake was determined to be the location from which she was infected. These cases are very real and dangerous in areas of poor sanitation and untreated drinking water. Animals who ingest leeches in this way may die. Leeches can also be obtained by bathing or wading through such water.