AUSTIN (KXAN) — The stuff of nightmares.
An unconfirmed viral video out of Russia claims to show doctors removing a “four-foot snake from woman’s mouth” after it slithered down her throat as she slept.
Is it a snake? And if so, is this even possible?
Toby Hibbitts, a research scientist at Texas A&M who studies reptiles, told digital magazine Inverse, that the video can be explained another way.
“I think that this is a video of the removal of a parasitic roundworm,” Hibbitts said.
Florida International University conservation biologist Luke Linhoff told Inverse the video does appear to show a snake but that it also looks like an eel or a parasitic worm. California Polytechnic State University assistant professor Emily Taylor said the creature is likely a parasite.
The three herpetologists who spoke to Inverse say it’s very very unlikely that a snake could crawl into your throat — all thanks to your gag reflex.
“It would be very unlikely for a snake of any size, especially a big one, to crawl down into someone’s stomach while they are sleeping,” Taylor said. “The esophagus is collapsed so it’s not as though it’s merely a tunnel, and people must actually swallow to move items from the mouth to the stomach.”
Additionally, Taylor said, snakes tend to avoid people overall. On top of that, she says that your stomach acids and digestive fluids — plus a lack of oxygen — would kill the snake quickly.
“The risk of a snake crawling down your throat is virtually nil,” she said.
But parasitic worms can still very easily live inside you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 576-740 million people globally are infected with hookworm, or Ascaris.
Hookworms live in a person’s small intestine and can continue living without you knowing — most people, the CDC says, have no symptoms. People who are infected for the first time may have gastrointestinal issues, however.
Serious infections can lead to anemia and protein loss.
Hookworm eggs are passed between human through fecal matter and by walking barefoot on or touching contaminated soil. Small children who play in dirt commonly come into contact with the eggs, CDC says.
Once in the intestines, parasites either grow into male or female worms, the World Health Organization reports. Female worms can be longer than 15 inches and slightly less than a quarter inch in diameter, WHO says. Males are generally smaller than females.
Most adult worms die in 1-2 years, but they can live longer.
Prevention of intestinal worms includes practicing good hygiene (hand washing before handling food, washing vegetables) and using only bottled water when traveling.