What advice would you give a young girl who wanted to lose a few extra pounds? Join a gym? Skip out on the desert table? How about purposely ingesting a handful of tapeworm eggs? That’s exactly what the mother of one teenage beauty pageant contestant did, a move that not surprisingly landed the girl in the local emergency room.
Pediatric ER nurse Maricar Cabral-Osorio thought she’d seen it all, but nothing could prepare her for what she’d see come out of one young patient. In an episode of Untold Stories Of The ER, which airs Friday on Discovery Fit & Health, Cabral-Osorio explained how a seemingly innocent “stomachache” turned into a scene out of a science fiction thriller. Upon examining the girl, who complained of severe stomach pain and displayed a visibly swollen abdomen, Cabral-Osorio initially suspected the teen may be pregnant, The Huffington Post reported. The mystery ensued when “the CT scan showed no baby, but it showed something was in her intestines,” Cabral-Osorio explained.
The girl was kept for further testing, but the true cause of her agony was revealed after a quick toilet break. Alarmed by the screams heard from behind the bathroom door, Cabral-Osorio rushed in to see the cause of the girl’s horror. “It was a toilet bowl full of tapeworms,” explained the nurse. “A couple of them were very long and wriggling around trying to get out the toilet bowl.”
Now that the cause of the girl's discomfort was found, the doctors and nurses needed to know how so many worms could have gotten inside of her intestine in the first place. Usually tapeworms get into human digestive tracts when tainted food, most commonly meat, is unknowingly consumed. However, in this case, the tapeworm ingestion seemed to have been done intentionally. "The mom was apologizing to the girl. It's like 'I'm so sorry. You know, I did it just to make you a little skinnier. You needed some help before we went on to the pageant," explained Cabral-Osorio.
The mother did not openly admit to feeding her daughter tapeworms to help with her weight loss, but did acknowledge she had given her “diet pills” that contained tapeworm eggs. Cabral-Osorio told the young girl that she would now be fine, seeing that the tapeworms were no longer inside her body. However, it’s likely that the image of the toilet bowl filled with the live organisms will stay with the beauty queen for the remainder of her life.
The practice of purposely ingesting tapeworms to lose weight has been around for centuries. In the late 18th and 19th century, there were even advertisements for this highly dangerous weight loss technique in the form of “sanitized tapeworm” pills. However, historians have not been able to confirm whether or not these tablets actually contained tapeworms, such as the pills that the teenager’s mother claimed to have purchased.
When a tapeworm enters a host, unable to breakdown food themselves, they absorb nutrients already existing in the digestive tract. The single tapeworm is not large enough to absorb all of a host’s calories, and often people do not even realize the tapeworm’s existence until they have actually left the body, such as in the unfortunate case of the young girl.