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'A Strange Situation' Indeed: Leech Spends Weeks In Woman's Nose

Mr. Curly. That's the name Daniela Liverani gave to the 3-inch leech that doctors found living in her nostril last week. With that tone of creepiness established, we can now provide more details to a story that might have you giving the old schnozz a closer look the next time you see a mirror.

It took a medical team about 30 minutes to remove the leech; Liverani believes it had been living in there for about a month.

Four weeks might seem like a long time to have a not-small leech living in one's nostril. But Liverani, who lives in Glasgow, tells BBC Radio Scotland that she initially thought the invader was a clump of clotted blood, the result of a motorcycle crash she had while traveling in Vietnam.

Liverani, 24, had nosebleeds; her attempts to get the foreign object out of her nose failed. She says the best clues that she had an animal, not a blood clot, in her nose came in the shower. Here's her description:

"Obviously my nasal passages would open up because of the steam and the heat and the water, and it would come out quite far, about as far as my lip.

"So I could kind of see it out of the corner of my eye but still didn't think it was a worm because it just looked like a blood clot.

"On Thursday I jumped out the shower and I unsteamed the mirror and I had a proper good look, and I could see little ridges on him."

Soon afterward, Liverani and a friend headed to a hospital emergency room. When she was examined, she says, the medical staff were "equally horrified and intrigued, I would say."

After a doctor removed the leech with a pair of tweezers, Liverani said, "They did what they could in a strange situation while trying to keep their cool."

Anyone who's not totally creeped out yet can head to the BBC's website for (several) photos. As for what became of Mr. Curly, Liverani says she boiled the international stowaway and threw it in the trash.

If you're thinking the leech must have been much smaller when it took up lodging in the traveler's nose, a U.S. leech expert says to think again. American Museum of Natural History curator Mark Siddal tells The Daily Mail that such leeches don't grow very quickly.

"Daniela could have picked up this leech from water in Vietnam, if she had been swimming," he also said. "Or it could have gone in through her mouth, as she was drinking water."

The case recalls the discovery a few years back of a "new leech species with ferociously large teeth — recently discovered in noses of children that swam in Peruvian rivers," as Phys Org reported in 2010, citing a paper on the leech, Tyrannobdella rex, published by PLoS ONE.

That study found that there's a group of leeches that specializes in living in the mucous membranes of mammals.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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