Creepy Parasites Found In North Korean Defectors

North Korea is a country shrouded in secrecy – it's one of the most closed off, insular places in the entire world. Westerners don't often get a chance to peer inside the heavily guarded borders and discover the true living conditions in North Korea. When visitors do manage to cross the South Korean border into the North, they're ushered into a pristine communist state where citizens appear to have a glowing admiration for their controversial leader, and problems like unemployment and poverty are virtually nonexistent. This façade is polished with staged community events and the fact that no one is allowed to leave the country with photos that depict the military or the poverty outside of wealthy city of Pyongyang. There were even rumors that citizens were sent to labor camps for not crying over the death of their former leader Kim Jong-il in 2011, an allegation the state firmly denies.

Though North Korea's constant nuclear testing attempts to paint the country as a fierce, wealthy military competitor who'd stop at nothing to protect its citizens, the health concerns of North Korean defectors show a different side of the story. Many of those who have risked their lives to defect from the communist state have found their insides ravaged by creepy parasitic infections – some of the worst doctors have ever seen, and all at the hands of their supposed "dear leaders."

North Korean defectors infected with parasites remain a testament to the poverty running rampant through the world's most enigmatic country, but just how bad does it actually get? And what is actually happening on the inside of the Hermit Kingdom?


  • North Korean Farmers Use Human Feces As Crop Fertilizer Because Of A Lack Of Resources

    North Korean Farmers Use  Human Feces As Crop Fertilizer Because Of A Lack Of Resources
    Photo: Ronan Harak / Flickr

    Until the 1970s, the Soviet Union provided North Korean farmers with chemical fertilizer. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, North Korea could no longer keep a sufficient supply and focused on building up its "self reliance" instead, which was meant to be a use of natural animal-induced fertilizer. But a lack of livestock in the country led to a dependency on human excrement, which they call "night soil," to nourish their crops.

    Night soil has been lauded by Kim Jong Un as the "best fertilizer in North Korea" despite its significant risk of carrying parasites and worms. In 2014, the leader instructed farmers to use a mix of human feces, animal waste and compost to fertilize their fields. The belief is that vegetables grown on human waste taste better. But the people of North Korea are, for the most part, totally malnourished. So their feces are not the healthiest or best options for fertilizing crops that are meant for human consumption. 

  • Doctors Found An 11-Inch Canine Parasite Inside The Gut Of A Defected Soldier

    Doctors Found An 11-Inch Canine Parasite Inside The Gut Of A Defected Soldier
    Photo: YouTube

    In November of 2017, a North Korean soldier named Oh Chong Song stole a jeep and sped across the demilitarized zone into South Korea. Chong Song crawled towards the border on his hands and knees as soldiers fired at him with AK-47s. He was found clinging to life beneath a pile of leaves just across the border in the South by South Korean soldiers, who dragged him to safety and brought him to the hospital.

    What doctors found was almost as horrific as his five gunshot wounds. During an intense and lengthy surgery to repair his digestive tract, South Korean doctors discovered dozens of parasites, one of which was nearly a foot long. “I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” Doctor Lee Cook-Jong told CNN. One of the parasites was typically only found in dogs.  

  • Dozens Of Parasites Inside A Defector Were Literally Eating His Bullet Wounds

    Dozens Of Parasites Inside A Defector Were Literally Eating His Bullet Wounds
    Photo: Department of Pathology, Calicut Medical College / Wikimedia Commons

    Doctors were able to remove all of defector Oh Chong Song's parasites, but it wasn't easy. The parasites weren't just gigantic, they were vicious. 

    “We [were] struggling with treatment as we found a large number of parasites in the soldier’s stomach, invading and eating into the wounded areas. We have also discovered a parasite never seen in Koreans before. It is making the situation worse and causing tremendous complications.”

    Dr. Lee told the Korea Biomedical Review, later adding, "It's a miracle he survived."

    Parasites like the kind found in Chong Song's gut are typically only transferred to the digestive tract through poor hygiene and sanitation, an issue that's prevalent inside North Korea's secretive borders.

  • A Defecting Soldier Was So Riddled With Bullet Holes And Parasites, Doctors Called Him A 'Broken Jar'

    A Defecting Soldier Was So Riddled With Bullet Holes And Parasites, Doctors Called Him A 'Broken Jar'
    Photo: YouTube

    North Korean defector Oh Chong Song was clinging to life when he was brought to Lee Cook-Jong's operating table in South Korea. He was reported to have suffered from catastrophic blood loss and needed surgery to remove the bullet fragments in his intestines, where he was shot five times. The surgery wasn't typical. What doctors described was a clear scene from a horror film. “He was like a broken jar. We couldn't put enough blood into him," Chook-Jong told CNN. He went on to describe the soldiers riddled body:

    “Everything was stained with blood, but the parasite was basically a really white color and this thick, big, long and very, very hard, this kind of thing was getting out from his bowel system."

  • Almost Half Of All Defectors Have Parasitic Worms And High Rates Of Viruses Transmitted Through Bodily Fluids

    Almost Half Of All Defectors Have Parasitic Worms And High Rates Of Viruses Transmitted Through Bodily Fluids
    Photo: Stephan / Flickr

    In a 2015 South Korean study, doctors examined samples from 17 women who fled North Korea. Seven of these women were found to have parasitic worms, and the rest didn't fare much better. Overall, the defectors were found to have higher rates of chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C and tuberculosis – all diseases primarily transferred through human bodily fluids.

    The Washington Post attributes this to the widespread use of night soil and the lack of sanitary food, but the country's sanitation problems could have an even wider span.

  • Sanitation And Hygiene May Be A Larger Issue In North Korean Hospitals

    Sanitation And Hygiene May Be A Larger Issue In North Korean Hospitals
    Photo: Ronan Harak / Flickr

    Among his parasites, Chong Song was found to have hepatitis B, a virus relatively common among North Korean defectors. A 2015 South Korean study that examined the health of 169 people who fled North Korea, it was found that one in 10 of the defectors had hepatitis B.

    Hepatitis B speaks to a hygiene problem larger than just consuming contaminated food. It's a testament to poor sterilization practices in hospitals, according to David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Hepatitis B is mainly transmitted either through unsterilized needles or syringes ... or by sexual activity," he told CNN.