A man has described seeing a flesh-eating parasite ravaging his own skin.
Mark Ward, a retired firefighter from Prescott, Arizona, was in Belize with his wife Janina when he started to notice small pin-sized spots all over his body.
Assuming them to be bug bites, he ignored them.
But within days he was exhausted, losing weight rapidly, and the dots had transformed into huge lesions, bursting open.
He had been infected by a flesh-eating parasite which was reproducing in his body and eating his cells.
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Horrific: Mark Ward (pictured), a firefighter from Prescott, Arizona, has described the feeling of a flesh-eating parasite ravaging his skin and eating away at his cells while away in Belize
The infection – called cutaneous leishmaniasis – can be fatal if left untreated.
However, bewildered doctors in Belize then in Arizona took more than a week to realize that Mark had more than a contact skin infection.
Infection: Mark (pictured) had contracted cutaneous leishmaniasis, which can be fatal
Doctors in Arizona managed to diagnose, control and cure the infection before it was too late.
Now Mark is sharing his story with the Animal Planet’s show Monsters Inside Me to warn others about the dangers of parasites, which are becoming increasingly common in the United States.
‘It felt like something was just gnawing at me, eating the skin out of my hands,’ Mark recalls in the episode, which screens on Thursday.
He describes how the infection escalated while he was at his holiday home in Belize with Janina, a holistic medicine student.
Eventually he reached a point of incredible lethargy but decided to go outside to fix a broken car.
That is when he realized the debilitating scale of his infection.
‘I couldn’t close my hand and when I went to grab something it was just painful,’ Mark says.
By that point the bumps had swelled to bigger than a dollar coin, and were breaking open.
Janina said she had never seen anything like it.
‘I was thinking, “this is bad… this is really bad… this could very well be deadly,”‘ she explains in the episode.
She had already been urging Mark to seek medical help, but he refused every time.
Finally he agreed.
Petrified: ‘I had no idea something so small that we couldn’t see could cause that much damage,’ Mark’s wife Janina (pictured), a holistic medicine student, recalled
‘For Mark to concede that he needs to go and get help from somebody is really big,’ Janina said.
After first seeking help in Belize, they flew home to Arizona, where doctors examined samples of Mark’s skin and blood for days.
‘They were bewildered. They didn’t know,’ Janina said.
They went through scores of possible diagnoses, all contact skin infection.
It was not until Dr Sean Reeder, a physician in Phoenix, took a look at it that they decided to test for parasites.
‘Mark had large centrally ulcerating crusted lesions, showing he had an infection which was likely parasitic,’ Dr Reeder said.
Mark was diagnosed with cutaneous leishmaniasis.
Cutaneous leishmaniasis is caused by the flesh-eating parasite leishmania.
The parasite attacked Mark’s body from the inside, invading cells, feeding off them, and reproducing.
The growing number of parasites then spread through his body.
It made Mark exhausted and gaunt. He lost weight quickly, and painful ulcers began to appear on his skin.
‘I had no idea something so small that we couldn’t see could cause that much damage,’ Janina said.
Mark’s story comes amid a surge in cases of brain-eating amoebas in the US.
Cured: It was not until Dr Sean Reeder, a physician in Phoenix, took a look at it that they decided to test for parasites – days after Mark was hospitalized in excruciating pain
There have been at least four cases of Naegleria fowleri this year.
Naegleria fowleri is a one-celled organism that can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis.
The amoeba lives in many lakes, rivers and streams in warm water locations.
There has to be a lot of force to send the water and amoeba into the brain, either by jumping into the water, or in a recent fatal case where an 18-year-old Ohio woman fell out of her raft in the churning waters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Both amoebas and flesh-eating parasites can be treated by a special drug called miltefosine, but it is not at every hospital’s disposal.
In August, a South Carolina hospital had to request an emergency courier of the drug from Orlando, Florida, where the manufacturer Profounda is based.
- Mark’s story will air in full on the Animal Planet on Thursday 10PM ET / 9PM CT