An experienced South Korean surgeon operating on a defector from North Korea has described his shock upon finding dozens of unusual parasites inside the man’s stomach, suggesting widespread health issues among the population of the secretive state.
The patient, who has not been named, was critically injured as he fled North Korea under a hail of bullets fired from his former comrades through the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) border area between the two countries on Monday.
“We are struggling with treatment as we found a large number of parasites in the soldier’s stomach, invading and eating into the wounded areas,” doctor Lee Guk-jong said at a press briefing following a three-and-a-half-hour operation on Wednesday, quoted in the Korea Biomedical Review.
The doctor described the patient as been 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 132 pounds, suggesting he may suffer from malnutrition.
The longest parasite found in the North Korean soldiers' stomach measured 27 centimetres (10 inches), local media reported – among the parasites was a species of roundworm that can be contracted by eating vegetables fertilized with human faeces or, more generally, in areas with poor sanitation.
Experts say that many North Koreans could be infected with the same kind of parasites.