Horsehair Worms in People (Nematomorpha Infestation in Humans)

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Horsehair worms are one of the most common parasites found in nature, and also one of the most misunderstood. Between the myths that surround them, as well as the vast claims that many make about them, this article intends to clear up any of the misinformation about horsehair worms, particularly their relationship to humans.

Photo of Horsehair Worm from Previous Article

To start with, horsehair worms (Nematomorpha) are parasites of invertebrates: mostly insects, though they have been known to take crustaceans as hosts as well. When they are not inside a host though, they prefer aquatic environments. In fact, the eggs of the horsehair worms are laid in bodies of water. And it is in this body of water that the egg hatches, releasing a microscopic larva that will then eventually be consumed by an insect. The catch is that the larva is covered by a cyst, thus protecting them from dying upon consumption. Once consumed, the cyst dissolves and the larva is free to burrow into the stomach of the insect and begin maturation.

Now, besides the myth surrounding their name, that horsehair worms actually develop in the manes of horses and fall down when the horses feed, there is a lot of misinformation regarding the parasitization of humans. We have received a lot of feedback on our articles about horsehair worms, in which we state that horsehair worms do not infect humans, stating that we should correct this, as there have been cases of humans becoming infected by horsehair worms.

To this we want to first say that we appreciate any and all feedback that our readers provide us, and we are more than happy to clear up this once and for all. Secondly, while we maintain the stance that horsehair worms do not purposely infect humans, we agree that they can indeed end up in humans, and we have research to back that up.

The University of California’s Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program has a “page on horsehair worms” in which they explain that “if humans ingest the worms, they may encounter some mild discomfort of the intestinal tract, but infection never occurs.” That is to say, that horsehair worms only end up in humans through consumption of an already-infected host (an insect or crustacean), but they do not seek out humans as hosts.

Likewise, the National Center for Biotechnology Information has published an article titled “‘Two Human Cases Infected by the Horsehair Worm’“, in which they discuss “records of human accidental parasitism” of horsehair worms. They deem these cases “uncommon”. “As for the invasion route, the present human cases may have accidentally swallowed insects, such as a cricket or a beetle which is an intermediate host.”

One example of human ‘infection’ that the article discusses is the case of six people in Japan that accidentally ingested horsehair worms. Other than discomfort, they experienced no symptoms. Eventually, they expelled the worms through vomit or faecal matter. It is important to note that the vomiting and defecation were not symptoms caused by the horsehair worms burrowing in the gut of the humans as they would with an insect. Those that vomited had this reaction because the worms got stuck in their throat upon bursting out of the infected insect host. Those that excreted the worms did so because the worms only came out of the infected insect host after consumption, thus naturally ending up in the intestinal tract.

So yes, horsehair worms can end up in humans, but they do not gestate or mature in humans, nor do they burst out of humans. They do not migrate out of the digestive tract in humans, and, as the best medical knowledge at the time of writing this indicates, they do not produce any indirect symptoms, only the symptoms associated with something unpleasant in the digestive tract.

To conclude, this has been a brief, but necessary, clarification of the effects that horsehair worms can have on humans, and the extent to which they can really affect and infect us. We hope this clears things up for people, and we welcome any questions in the comments section below!

Note: All About Worms is completely free, and reader-supported. If something that you find here helps you, please consider supporting us.
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Horsehair Worms in People (Nematomorpha Infestation in Humans) Inbox ALL ABOUT WORMS
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Horsehair Worms in People (Nematomorpha Infestation in Humans) Inbox ALL ABOUT WORMS
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Horsehair worms are one of the most common parasites found in nature, and also one of the most misunderstood. Between the myths that surround them, as well as the vast claims that many make about them, this article intends to clear up any of the misinformation about horsehair worms, particularly their relationship to humans.
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Author: Worm Researcher Anton

2 thoughts on “Horsehair Worms in People (Nematomorpha Infestation in Humans)

  1. I can not find anything else similar to what i have…. HORSE HAIR WORMS!! Have ALL hair symptoms…. Bites me or can call it a sting, HARD, swell up like allergic. Tried all medicines repeatedly. 3rd time to ER 1st time said rash 2nd gave the “P” cream 3rd after a huge brown worm (size of the big fat earthworms, about 3 of them around) almost came out of my stomach white worms everywhere then the long hairs I thought spiders were going to erupt from my stomach but I got ambushed at triage and told to leave. My back is the worst I’d rather have quads, kidney stones over this. It goes to the core…my muscles…deep…i feel like there’s a 10s unit in my back, constant vibration. Now I’m glowing. I have black bugs come out of my skin. I have so many strange unbelievable pictures, its happening to me and i have to question my own sanity. its surreal. In my stool its like sticks, hard like off a tree, if I burn my hair its like a wooden looking vine. I’m terrified of my hair. Its crazy its like they are unified, threatenin. I’m a recluse I’ve always been a germaphobe, I don’t leave my house, my boyfriend goes to work where works mostly to himself. My back is so numb put blow dryer directly on it hoping heat would kill them, I couldn’t feel the heat or the burn. I don’t itch…. I’m in CONSTANT pain. Under microscope looks like blisters my chest turns green blue purple, I look jaundice under eyes yellowish green. Anyone know PLEASE PLEASE respond, seems like not many people have this, no info in CDC so I’d have to say no but i don’t know how that can be possible? My body is scared its just disgusting. At this point my ENTIRE body are covered with these things, hair that glows and moves, under microscope looks like its slimy, they glisten, I shaved yesterday comes back whatever length it wants. I’m really concerned under my skin you can see them growing EVERYWHERE. They have a distinct look, a hook they are every where. My bf and I got another prescription of ivermectin. It didn’t work before I have a worm in me on camera that is big, the infectious disease doctor says its impossible that big too blurry, in the film you see my belly button open, all of this is psychotic episodes?!. I still have this worm its like I’m pregnant, its so freaking disgusting, its impossible, yet here it is and no medicine is killing it. I feel like I’ve been in labor for 3 weeks now. How is this possible? I have to compartmentalize otherwise I’m afraid of the mental break I might have. I know this all sounds crazy, I know I sound crazy. But its all true I can’t deny it, I have to speak up. Something needs to change With the medical profession and if they don’t know they should admit that. i need a ER I need this out of me and I can’t go, its pathetic. Going to try the P cream again for a week. Wait for dermatology appt. My blood pressure is sky high I lost 20 lbs in month, I’m petite 5 ft 120-130 lbs., skinny. I feel like I’m doomed but if I let this worm come out and it helps 1 other person, then it was worth it. My bf don’t understand, this causes so many problems in a once perfect relationship. I just don’t know what to do. In 3 weeks did the Permethrin Cream approx. 10 times taken the 2x pills, steroids. Now these super super tiny glowing things pouring out of my nose, it looks like over a million. I have to keep my hair up in pins so no “hair” can touch me. I sometimes wonder am I in a coma and this new reality isn’t reality, I might wake up and be normal again.
    My biggest concern can my family get it, it was just Christmas is my grandkids infected? Little white glowing bugs were coming out of me that I didn’t notice til I got home. My hair will bite me and go back in me if it falls out could it hurt them? I’m terrified I want them to get checked but too afraid to tell my kids what’s wrong. This is NOT my hair its disgusting but they are worms!!

  2. I have exact things almost mirroring hers. I have 2 tests with positive dx for contaminated water and nematode in stool. From PCI arizona. I have bathed in this water 5 plus years. Only brushed my teeth in it. I cooked but boiled. Its well water. I do believe its accidental of course. But we’re have those dx gotten me. No where. I will give you any proof of mine you want. Mine was in larval stage so wasn’t I’d past nematode. I’m here if you wana talk you have my number from previous posts. And yes still have the same water even though I have called and emailed epa ,california state inspector, 800 hotlines nobody has even step foot or tried to take a look at this well water. The property management took a water sample was supposed to send me copy that was Sept 29th. Its crickets from. There end. If you have any other ideas I’m open to hearing them. I specifically spoke to Scott. And cannot get to dr amin. Unless I have a Dr that believes the tests but since they are sent outside usa they shut me down . So I suffer. With positive tests I followed from you guys. I’m just looking for help.

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