A reader wrote to us in an understandable frenzy because she has white worms (or worm-like things) coming out of her skin. She included the following picture:
The first piece of advice we’re going to offer is to see a doctor, immediately! Here at All About Worms we have no medical training whatsoever, and do not want to ever be thought to be attempting to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
We’ve done a little research and found 4 conditions that can cause symptoms like those she’s describing. Since we do not have medical training, we’re letting the experts speak to these subjects. They are (in no particular order):
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Morgellons disease. The Mayo Clinic describes Morgellons disease as:
Morgellons disease is an uncommon, unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores, crawling sensations on and under the skin, and fiber-like filaments emerging from the sores. It’s not certain what these strings are. Some say they are wisps of cotton thread, probably coming from clothing or bandages. Others say they result from an infectious process in the skin cells. Further study is needed.
Cutaneous larva migrans (or CLM) is caused by Ancylostoma braziliense (a type of hookworm). This parasitic worm can be contracted by coming into contact with the feces of an infected human or animal. The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, says:
People are infected when animal hookworm larvae penetrate the skin, causing a local reaction that is red and itchy. Raised, red tracks appear in the skin where the larvae have been and these tracks may move in the skin day to day, following the larvae’s movements. The symptoms of itching and pain can last several weeks before the larvae die and the reaction to the larvae resolves. In rare cases, certain types of animal hookworm may infect the intestine and cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and diarrhea.
Loiasis, called African eye worm by most people, is caused by the parasitic worm Loa loa. It is passed on to humans through the repeated bites of deerflies (also known as mango flies or mangrove flies) of the genus Chrysops. The flies that pass on the parasite breed in certain rain forests of West and Central Africa. Infection with the parasite can also cause repeated episodes of itchy swellings of the body known as Calabar swellings.
Guinea worms are most common in rural areas where people do not have access to clean drinking water. The CDC states:
People become infected with Guinea worm by drinking water from ponds and other stagnant water containing tiny “water fleas” that carry the Guinea worm larvae… Once drunk, the larvae are released from copepods in the stomach and penetrate the digestive track, passing into the body cavity… When the adult female worm is ready to come out, it creates a blister on the skin anywhere on the body, but usually on the legs and feet. This blister causes a very painful burning feeling and it bursts within 24-72 hours…People do not usually have symptoms until about one year after they become infected. A few days to hours before the worm comes out of the skin, the person may develop a fever, swelling, and pain in the area. More than 90% of the worms come out of the legs and feet, but worms can appear on other body parts too.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. We recommend that our reader consult her doctor immediately. It may be a good idea to consult a travel doctor, since several conditions that cause these symptoms are most common outside the US. We wish her luck, and would be interested to hear the results.