A British traveller lost the use of his legs and was in hospital for three months after a parasitic worm burrowed its way into his penis.
James Michael, 32, a marketer from Kensington, London, was swimming in Lake Malawi in south-east Africa two years ago when the parasite laid eggs inside his body.
He was hospitalised for three months as he fought against bilharzia, an infection caused by a parasitic worm that lives in freshwater lakes in subtropical and tropical regions.
He has now made a full recovery after a period in a wheelchair and then using crutches for four months.
Trip of a lifetime
Mr Michael went on the "trip of a lifetime" to Africa with three friends in August 2017, travelling from Zambia to Zimbabwe before visiting Malawi for five days.
They swam and canoed in Lake Malawi for three hours every day over a five-day period before heading back home to the UK.
In October 2018, Mr Michael noticed a loss of feeling in his legs. Doctors at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital determined that his immune system was attacking his spine, before experts at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases told him his body had been infiltrated by the parasite.
He was diagnosed with bilharzia a week before Christmas and put on medication that caused severe acne.
"When I look back at photos from my time in Africa, it's weird to think that's where the parasite crawled up my penis,” said Mr Michael.
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"That wasn't exactly how I imagined the trip of a lifetime with my friends going – the whole experience was surreal and strange.
"I would urge anyone thinking of getting into Lake Malawi not to. It's just not worth the potential risks of a little worm climbing in your body through your parts. It's a grotesque, sickening thought.
"This has been horrendous. It's felt like a never-ending mountain I've had to climb.
“I was left basically debilitated. They told me there was a 30% chance I'd make a full recovery – 10 years from now.
"It was a horrible feeling – I felt completely helpless, and the odds weren't good. I couldn't wish what I've been through on anybody."
He added: "The pain has been like nothing I've ever known. At times, it has been an excruciating physical pain that's been debilitating.
"Early in my recovery – sometime in January – I had a really terrible acne outbreak that went all down my back and down my arms.
"I couldn't sleep for a month because lying on my back hurt. I couldn't really be under running water either, so I had to shower my front instead.
"The loss of feeling and use of my legs affected every part of my life. I wasn't able to exercise much because of the infection, which was hard.
"In January, I couldn't use the toilet normally, so had to use a catheter. That was quite embarrassing for me because it's not something you associate with young guys.”
Mr Michael said he also lost his appetite and struggled to maintain a sex life with his girlfriend.
He said: ”My girlfriend couldn't hug me because just to touch me hurt and we've not been intimate with each other because it's just too painful for me.
"I'll certainly think twice before taking a dip in Lake Malawi."