A dream family vacation in Thailand has become an ongoing nightmare for a young woman who has been at the mercy of a rare parasite for the past seven years.
Then 20-year-old nursing student Tess Swift returned home from vacation in 2015 with a mild stomach condition that required her to be hospitalized a few weeks later.
Since then, Ms Swift has been in and out of hospital as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong before getting the answers she needed two months ago.
She had contracted a parasitic disease called gnathostomiasis, which attacked her digestive system, partially paralyzing her digestive tract and forcing Ms Swift to wear a feeding tube for the past four years.
Prompt treatment might have killed the parasite, but Ms Swift, now 28, is still living with untreatable consequences including chronic pain and nausea and battling numerous mental illnesses.
She’s now sharing her roller coaster ride to warn other travelers about the potentially deadly parasite.
Tess Swift (pictured) was just 20 when she first fell ill after returning from a family vacation in Thailand in 2015
The illness forced Tess (pictured in 2017) to drop out of nursing and move home
“It kind of ruined my life. I was only 20 when it happened and there is so much going on in your life when you are 20 and there was so much I had to miss because I was in the hospital or too ill to walk… I am I ended up losing a lot of my friendships because I was so bad I could never do anything,” she told news.com.au.
Within six months of first feeling ill, Ms. Swift dropped out of nursing school.
Because she was regularly hospitalized and discharged, she had to move back in with her parents near Geelong, almost two hours south-west of Melbourne.
Doctors spent seven years trying to figure out what made Ms Swift so seriously ill.
They diagnosed her with everything from irritable bowel syndrome to binge eating, but no treatment has helped control her symptoms.
In 2018, it was discovered that her digestive tract was partially paralyzed and her first feeding tube was placed directly in her stomach.
The following year, Ms Swift was at her sickest, spending six and a half weeks in the hospital. As a last resort, she was tested for a variety of rare diseases.
The tests were conducted in Bangkok and Thailand, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing significant delays.
The tests identified the culprit nearly three years later, in November 2022, in a letter from Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, a hospital Ms Swift had never been to.
“I thought it was a scam,” Ms. Swift’s mother, Virginia Dickson-Swift, recalled.
“We open it and it says, ‘Dear Tess, you have tested positive for gnathostomiasis, call me.’
Tess Swift unknowingly picked up a rare parasite while on vacation (pictured in Thailand in 2015) that would go unidentified for seven years until 2022
Tess underwent her final surgery last week to fix complications with her feeding tube, which she has been wearing since 2018
Gnathostomiasis is a parasitic infection caused by several species of parasitic worms of the genus Gnathostoma, which in some cases can be fatal.
Ms Swift was treated immediately to kill the parasite.
She is now living with major depressive disorder, chronic pain and nausea, PTSD and still has to use a feeding tube.
She underwent her final surgery last week to fix complications with her tube.
Because the parasite lived inside for many years, her nerves were severely damaged, which doctors cannot repair at the moment.
Her health issues also had a major impact on her career and that she was unable to use her nursing degree but now works as a casual caregiver for the disabled.
Gnathostomiasis is a parasitic infection caused by several species of parasitic worms in the genus Gnathostoma, which infect humans primarily through eating undercooked or raw freshwater fish, eels, frogs, birds, and reptiles.
The disease is common in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, but is also found in South and Central America and some areas of Africa
In the early stages of infection, the parasitic worm enters the blood system through the walls of the stomach, intestines, or liver.
Parasite-induced gnathostomiasis (pictured) is more common in Southeast Asian countries and, if left untreated, can lead to nerve damage, vision loss, or even death
Many people show no symptoms for the first few weeks of infection, but some may experience fever, excessive tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.
If the parasite enters the bloodstream, it can cause painful, itchy swellings under the skin, but it can also cause nerve damage, vision loss, and even death.
Ms Swift and her mother are now looking to raise awareness of the mostly unknown disease, which has only been treated 68 times by Australia’s only gnathostomiasis specialist.
Ms Dickson-Swift believes that more information should be available for travelers to areas where the parasite is ‘endemic’ and that the parasites should be tested more frequently.
“It’s such a rare parasite. The doctors we’ve spoken to since then really have no idea, they’ve never heard of it,” she said.
‘[We want] to raise awareness that it could be a possibility by someone coming back from Asia… If you’ve been to the specific places this thing is, then it’s a possibility.’
Her daughter documents her health issues on social media.
“I’ve only ever thought of my trip as a ‘sick trip’, but my perspective has changed. I now consider it my ‘sickness and wellness’ journey,” Ms. Swift wrote.
“I look forward to continuing to explore the best ways and combinations to support my body, mind and spirit.”
Although prompt treatment killed the parasite, Ms Swift is still battling the lingering effects of the infestation, such as the use of a feeding tube (pictured) and numerous mental illnesses
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11634885/Rare-parasite-turns-womans-Thailand-holiday-ongoing-parasitic-nightmare.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 A rare parasite turns a woman’s Thailand vacation into an ongoing parasitic nightmare