A never-before-seen parasite has been found inside the stomach of a defector who was shot at least five times while escaping North Korea recently. The Pyongyang soldier is said to be in a critical condition.
A South Korean surgeon, who operated on him and removed the parasite, said that the unusual creature was around 10 inches long. The doctor added that similar health issues are common in North Korean defectors he treats, but may not represent the country's population as a whole.
The soldier, whose name has not been disclosed but the South Korean intelligence agency identified him as a man in his 20s holding the rank of staff sergeant, entered South Korea on Monday (13 November).
Among a volley of bullets targeted on him by his former comrades, at least five bullets hit him in his buttocks, both arms, back, and knee, the CNN reported.
The South Korean military reportedly said that more than 40 bullets were fired at the soldier from pistols and an AK-47 rifle.
The United Nations Command reportedly said that the defector, while escaping his country, drove a vehicle near the military demarcation line between the two Koreas — the demilitarized zone (DMZ) — and then "exited the vehicle and continued fleeing south across the line as he was fired upon by other soldiers from North Korea".
The UN Command had agreed to release a CCTV footage of the soldier's escape, but the release was blocked by the South Korean Ministry of Defense over concerns surrounding unnecessary speculation.
The doctor treating the defector stated that he remained in a critical condition despite the successful removal of a bullet lodged in his abdominal wall.
He described the patient as a 5 feet 5 inches tall person, weighing 132 pounds, indicating that he may be suffering from malnutrition.
"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," Physician Lee Guk-jong told the Korea Biomedical Review. "We have also discovered a parasite never seen in Koreans before. It is making the situation worse and causing tremendous complications.
"I have been doing surgery for more than 20 years, but I have not seen such parasites. I will not be able to find them in [South] Korea," he added.
According to the doctor, parasites found in the defector's body included a species of roundworms which the patient could have contracted before the gunshot wound. He said that roundworms develop in a human body when one eats vegetables fertilised with human manure.
These parasites may cause peritonitis and if left neglected, could spread through the blood to other body parts, leading to multiple organ failure and death, the physician added.
Peritonitis is a medical condition in which there is inflammation of the peritoneum — the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen. The inflammation is typically caused by bacterial infection either through the blood or after a rupture of an abdominal organ.
"The patient is being administered sedatives in the intensive care unit and mechanical ventilation is maintained using a life support device," Lee said, adding more surgery were likely to follow, and the soldier may suffer permanent nerve injury or paralysis as a result of his injuries.
In the recent past, two other members of the North Korean military had fled to South Korea. Both the defections took place in June but on separate days. Since 2012, there have been four cases of defections in the North Korean military, two in the same year and one each in 2015 and 2016.