A Woman Pooped Ascaris Worms After Eating a Prepackaged Salad

Is this potentially serious gut problem likely to happen to you when you eat salad?

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."

Worms From Salad?

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," said Jacqui 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, told 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," explained Dr. Fiorito. "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, and told her he had never seen a case like hers before.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 807 million–1.2 billion people are infected with Ascaris worldwide.

How the Worms Get in the Gut

James J. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA, told Health that this roundworm can reach up to 14 inches in length. "The main infection for humans occurs through ingesting contaminated soil with eggs, the so-called fecal-oral route," explained Dr. Lee. Once in the small intestine, a worm can lay up to 200,000 eggs daily, added Dr. Lee.

Most people who have parasitic worms are asymptomatic, said Dr. Fiorito. 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," revealed Dr. Fiorito.

There are a few different ways to treat parasitic worms, but Dr. Fiorito said one of the most effective is the 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," said Jacqui. "The stomach aches went away within that time as well."

Serious Health Consequences

Left untreated, the worm can get larger and cause intestinal blockage, warned Dr. Fiorito. "In children, it can cause malnutrition and growth delays, including intellectual delays," added Dr. Fiorito. To avoid getting infected, Dr. Fiorito's advice was 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.

According to the CDC, Ascaris eggs are passed in the feces (poop) of infected people. If an infected person defecates outside or if the feces of an infected person is used as fertilizer, worm eggs are deposited on soil. When hands or fingers that have dirt contaminated with Ascaris eggs on them are put in the mouth, or by eating vegetables or fruits that have not been carefully peeled, washed, or cooked, a person is infected.

Jacqui stressed that her intention wasn't to demonize any particular brand of salad but to encourage people to talk about their health issues with their healthcare provider, even the ones that seem gross. She added that she hoped people would take several messages from her story: Pay attention to your body, have an open line of communication with your provider, and wash your produce...even if it says it's pre-washed.

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