A North Korean soldier shot multiple times while defecting to the South has an “enormous number of parasites” in his stomach, doctors say.
The defector was severely wounded in a hail of gunfire as he crossed a section of the 4km-wide Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which acts as a buffer between the two polar nations.
He was shot in his armpit, back, shoulder, knee and buttocks when he was forced to ditch his vehicle and navigate a section of the strip of land on foot as North Korean soldiers shot around 40 rounds at him.
The man, who is believed to be an army staff sergeant in his mid-20s, was airlifted to a hospital in Suwon for life-saving surgery.
Lead surgeon Lee Cook-jong said one of the parasites found in the patient’s stomach was 27cm (10.6 in) long.
"In my over 20 year-long career as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a textbook," Lee said.
Surgeon Lee said there was an “enormous number of parasites” in his body, adding: “We are paying close attention to prevent possible complications”.
He said the patient, who was stationed in the Joint Security Area of the DMZ, dubbed the “Truce Village” is now in a stable condition, telling journalists: “Vital signs including his pulse are returning to stability.
“The contamination... was very severe, and the future course of his medical condition is likely to be worse than that of general trauma patients as he was in a state of shock for a long while due to massive bleeding.”
Parasitic infections are thought to be prevalent in the reclusive state due to the use of of human excrement by farmers to fertilise their fields as a substitute for unavailable chemical alternatives.
“Although we do not have solid figures showing health conditions of North Korea, medical experts assume that parasite infection problems and serious health issues have been prevalent in the country," Choi Min-Ho, a professor at Seoul National University College of Medicine who specialises in parasites, told Reuters.
The soldier's condition was “not surprising at all considering the north’s hygiene and parasite problems,” he said.