As if multiple bullet wounds weren't enough, the North Korean soldier who defected across the DMZ on Monday has "an enormous number" of parasites posing a risk to his recovery, according to South Korean doctors. "I've never seen anything like this," surgeon Lee Cook-jong says, per the BBC and Guardian, describing dozens of parasites in the man's intestines, including an 11-inch-long worm already removed. "He has everything that he could have," including "a parasite never seen in Koreans before," Lee tells the Korea Biomedical Review. "They are invading and eating into the wounded areas." For now, the soldier, an army staff sergeant in his mid-20s, is in stable condition following surgery to remove bullets from his shoulder, back, butt, armpit, and knee.
The soldier was fired upon by his former comrades as he tried to defect and was rescued by South Korean forces before being flown to a hospital in Suwon. Though it's not clear if the soldier is talking, officials say his state of health suggests he's a victim of nutrition problems long suspected in the North. The parasites, for instance, may be the result of the use of untreated feces as fertilizer, which can lead to contaminated food. While some parasites are life-threatening, others are less so and generally symptom-less. But "all indicate a poor health status" as they "take nutrients away from your body," a doctor explains. The Guardian notes that "as a soldier with an elite assignment," the defector, who had corn in his stomach, "would at least be as well-nourished as an average North Korean." (Read more North Korea stories.)