23 health stories that terrified us in 2018

John Moore/Getty ImagesGaps in vaccine coverage have led to a spike in global measles cases, a new report says.
  • In 2018, several medical discoveries were made and health myths were debunked.
  • There were also several health horror stories that shook people to their core.
  • Some of these stories were stranger than fiction, like leaky brains and hairy tongues.
  • Others were more serious, like fewer people opting for vaccinations and more women being killed by people they knew.
  • Warning: This post contains graphic images.

This year marked many milestones in the health world. The Food and Drug Administration approved a drug that could treat migraines. Researchers made advancements in finding an effective form of male birth control. And some people were finally convinced that gluten isn’t as bad as they thought. But not all of the health headlines were hopeful. In fact, there were a number of health stories that were downright terrifying in 2018.

Some of the stories were “stranger than fiction” scary, like a woman developing a hairy black tongue and a man blowing a hole in his throat after sneezing. Other headlines offered a horrifying look at the state of the country, like US life expectancy dropping due to drug overdoses and a polio-like illness spreading throughout the US and England.

Here are 23 health headlines that sparked a bit of fear in readers.


People found tapeworms in their bodies.

CDCCDC images of an adult tapeworm, left, and a microscopic view of a tapeworm, right.

In January, emergency room physician Dr. Kenny Banh appeared on the podcast “This Won’t Hurt a Bit” to tell a horrifying story: A man pulled a 5-foot tapeworm out of his body during a trip to the bathroom, put it inside a plastic shopping bag, then toted it with him to the emergency room.

Though the cause of the infection wasn’t clear, his daily sushi habit may have been to blame. Scientists at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have detected tapeworms in raw salmon before.

It wasn’t the only tapeworm saga to generate attention in 2018. In May, reports said a young hockey player passed a 25-inch tapeworm that’s also known to infect humans via undercooked fish. And in July, the New England Journal of Medicine reported a case of a woman with a tapeworm lodged in her spine that caused “electric shock” feelings in her legs.


A man blew a hole in his throat after stifling a powerful sneeze.

ShutterstockHolding in sneezes could result in damage to your sinuses or eardrums.

A man who “tried to halt a sneeze by pinching the nose and holding his mouth closed” ended up with a hole in his throat, according to the authors of a January paper published in BMJ Case reports. After the man experienced symptoms like painful swallowing and a change in his voice, he sought medical attention. X-rays revealed the small rupture, which later healed without surgical intervention.

The story offered a reminder that sneezes shouldn’t be stifled. They’re a powerful reflex used to expel germs and particles out of your nose, and holding them in could result in damage to your sinuses or eardrums or an ear infection, according to the Cleveland Clinic.


Some parents aren’t vaccinating their kids.

Some parents opted to skip vaccines for their children in 2018. One survey conducted by a hospital in November found a third of parents don’t plan to get their kids a flu shot.

In some places, low vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of preventable disease. In November, 17 New York City kids came down with measles after it spread among unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated children. (A World Health Organisation report found that measles cases surged 30% worldwide last year, threatening decades of progress against the disease.)

Just weeks later, a school in North Carolina with a high rate of religious exemptions for vaccines saw an outbreak of chicken pox.

In light of these outbreaks, it’s important to remember that staying up to date on vaccines doesn’t just protect you; It also helps others by contributing to herd immunity. When more people in a population are vaccinated against a disease, it can’t spread as easily and the entire population is less likely to get it. This protects those who can’t get certain shots.


Tick-borne disease rates continued to climb.

GettyImagesThe East Asian longhorned ticks and lone star ticks made headlines this year.

Diseases spread by ticks have been on the rise across the US. In November, the CDC reported that the country saw a record number of tick-borne illnesses last year. Some particularly alarming tick-borne diseases made headlines throughout 2018.

In April, East Asian longhorned ticks – a species known to carry a potentially deadly virus called severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome – were found in New Jersey.

In June, a mother in Mississippi said her 5-year-old daughter was temporarily paralysed by a tick bite. Tick paralysis is a rare but real condition that may be caused by a toxin in a tick’s saliva, one doctor told local news station WLBT at the time. The paralysis typically subsides after the tick is removed, and the young girl recovered.

Later that month, Business Insider reported on the lone star tick, a species with a bite that can cause an allergy to red meat and other mammal products.


A woman developed a case of “hairy black tongue.”

Voyagerix/ShutterstockThe condition is benign and reversible.

A woman taking antibiotics to treat an infected wound ended up with a case of “black hairy tongue,” a report published in September in the New England Journal of Medicine said.

The condition doesn’t actually cause hair to sprout on the tongue, however. It typically occurs when papillae – normal bumps on the tongue’s surface – grow longer than normal and become discolored, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can be linked to bad oral hygiene, tobacco, irritating mouthwash, and antibiotics, but the reasons it happens are still unclear.

It’s also benign and reversible, Dr. Yasir Hamad, lead author of the report, told CNN. The woman’s doctors adjusted her medications and her tongue returned to its normal state.


People in 36 states came down with a mysterious polio-like illness.

CDCA CDC infographic shows the common symptoms associated with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

In 2018, people in at least 36 US states have come down with acute flaccid myelitis(AFM) a rare illness that can cause paralysis. As of December 14, the CDC reported a record-high 165 confirmed cases of the illness.

AFM affects the nervous system, causing muscles and reflexes across the body to become weak. It’s often described as “polio-like” because polio also affects the nervous system, pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert previously told INSIDER.

Since 2014, more than 90% of AFM patients in the US have had a mild respiratory sickness or fever shortly before they developed AFM, but the CDC says it’s not clear why a small number of people who get these illnesses go on to develop AFM, while others recover. The agency maintains that a definitive cause still hasn’t been found.

The illness is very rare. But Burgert said anyone with AFM symptoms (including sudden arm or leg weakness, facial drooping and weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, and slurred speech) should see a doctor as soon as possible.


People got frightening bug bites.

Tacio Philip Sansonovsk/ShutterstockA human botfly larva, which burrowed its way into a woman’s skin this year.

An insect with the nickname “kissing bug” doesn’t sound scary. But triatomine bugs, as they’re technically known, bite people’s faces while they sleep, spreading a parasitic infection called Chagas disease that can cause life-threatening heart complications. In August, the American Heart Association released a statement warning that the disease is becoming more common in the US.

And in October, doctors published a case report describing in a woman who came back from a trip to Belize with a human botfly larva burrowed into her skin. At first, the report said, the woman thought it might have been an ordinary bug bite.


A woman went temporarily blind after swimming in her contact lenses.

Courtesy Stacey PeoplesStacey Peoples lost (and later regained) vision in one eye after suffering from a parasitic eye infection.

In September, the Today Show reported on a woman named Stacey Peoples, who went temporarily blind after a parasite infected her eye.

She was eventually diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis, a rare eye infection that can happen after swimming or bathing in contact lenses. Peoples said she had been swimming while wearing her contacts about a week before her symptoms began.

Although 85% of Acanthamoebakeratitis cases occur in contact lens wearers, the overall risk of getting the infection is extremely low. In developed countries, there are approximately one to 33 cases per million contact wearers, according to the CDC. Still, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends contact lens wearers always remove contacts before bathing, swimming, or doing anything where water can get in your eyes.


50,000 women were killed by a romantic partner or family member.

Scott Olson / GettyThe Americas accounted for 3,000 of these murders.

In November, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that out of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017, 50,000 were killed at the hands of a romantic partner or family member.

The study used homicide data to analyse the intimate partner and family-related homicide killing of women and girls around the world. Researchers also looked into the breakdown of murders by country and found that Asia had the largest number of women killed by intimate partners or family members (20,000 in total). Africa accounted for 19,000 murders, while the Americas accounted for 3,000.

In the paper, researchers wrote that in order for change to occur, women, “need access to a comprehensive range of services provided by the police and justice system, health and social services, which need to be coordinated to be effective. Women also need access to specific measures that enable them to leave a violent relationship.”


Everyday habits led to amputations — even death.

Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesA bad habit lead to a life-threatening infection for one man.

This year, a series of stories showed that, in rare cases, everyday habits can cause serious harm.

In May, a man said he developed sepsis – an extreme, life-threatening response to infection – after biting off some skin near one of his nails.

In July, a South Korean man’s left forearm was amputated after he ate seafood contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the US, these infections are rare, but eating raw seafood is one risk factor. In fact, the same month, a Florida man died after eating raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus.

In August, a man had his hands and legs amputated after he contracted a Capnocytophaga canimorsus bacterial infection, likely from a dog lick. Up to 74% of dogs and 57% of cats have this type of bacteria in their mouths, according to the CDC, but the vast majority of infections come from bites, not licks. (This is one reason it’s crucial to get immediate medical treatment if you’re bitten by an animal.)

And in December, a woman ended up with a fatal amoeba infection in her brain after using tap water to clean out her sinuses. Experts say neti pots and similar sinus-cleaning devices should only be used with sterile water.


A man broke his penis while having sex, and told the story on TV.

trumzz/ iStockPenile fractures are emergencies that require immediate treatment.

In June, comedian Ross Asdourian appeared on “Megyn Kelly TODAY” to recount the squirm-inducing story of how he broke his penis during a sexual encounter. He later penned a book about the experience titled “Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex … Without a Penis.”

On the show, Asdourian said that the break was signalled by an audible pop.

“I have broken bones. I have been in car accidents. I have fallen off a horse. I have been dislodged from an ATV” he said on the show. “Nothing compares to the pain that I went through with this.”

Urologist Dr. Rajveer Purohit, who treated Asdourian, also appeared on the “Megyn Kelly TODAY” and stressed that penile fractures are emergencies that require immediate treatment to avoid permanent complications.


Life expectancy in the US dropped for the second year in a row.

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesThe drop in life expectancy is likely due to the increase in deaths from drug overdose related to the opioid crisis.

In November, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that life expectancy in the US dropped to78.6 years in 2017. This marks the second year in a row life expectancy has dropped, contributing to the longest running decline in the country‘s history.

In its report, the CDC noted that the drop in life expectancy is likely due to the increase in deaths from drug overdose and suicide.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Redfield said in a statement.


Read more:
US life expectancy is experiencing its longest-running decline in 100 years, and it reveals a troubling trend


People — including doctors — mistook serious medical conditions for weight gain.

Courtesy of Lenox Hill HospitalA 30-lb tumour that was removed from Kevin Daly after growing in his stomach for 15 years.

In March, Kevin Daly spoke to the New York Post to share a scary misdiagnosis: his “beer belly” was actually a 30-pound-tumour that doctors believe was growing in his stomach over the course of 15 years. Daly, who was told by doctors he needed to lose weight, learned of the tumour after undergoing a CAT scan, a procedure his insurance company initially denied.

Similarly, in November, Hector Hernandez was confused as to why he couldn’t get rid of his “beer belly,” despite losing a significant amount of weight elsewhere. When he finally went to a doctor, he discovered he had a cancerous tumour known as retroperitoneal liposarcoma. This type of cancer primarily grows in fat cells, and is removed through surgery.

These weren’t the only oversized growth that doctors mistook for weight gain. In June, Kayla Rahn underwent a procedure to remove a 50-pound-cyst. The Alabama resident had been experiencing pain, stomach issues, and weight gain in 2017. She sought the advice of four doctors over the course of a year, all of whom told her weight loss was the solution to her problem. In May 2018, she underwent a test that revealed the source of the symptoms was an oversized cyst.

Rahn, Hernandez, and Daly’s stories serve as a reminder to be persistent in receiving treatment for any medical concerns.


A woman’s botched butt injections put her life at risk.

Courtesy of Jenelle Salazar ButlerButler lost a lot of blood during her surgery and she had to return to the hospital for blood transfusions.

After giving birth to her son in 2010, fitness coach Jenelle Salazar Butler decided to get butt injections in an effort to make her feel more secure in her new body. But her silicone injections, which were implanted in a hotel room for $US2,000, left her with pain, itchiness, discoloration, and indentation.

She looked into removing the injections, but the process would be difficult. The procedure took six hours and resulted in massive blood loss, which forced her to receive three blood transfusions in three days, as INSIDER previously reported.

“It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” Butler told INSIDER. “I mean I have three children and one via C-section and that’s the most pain I’ve ever been in.”


Read more:
The photos of a woman’s botched butt injections will make you think twice before getting plastic surgery


A few people discovered their runny noses were actually the result of brain leakages.

Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDERA runny nose can be a result of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, a condition when the fluid surrounding the brain leaks out of the nose.

For years, doctors contributed Kendra Jackson’s runny nose to allergies. But in May, the Nebraska resident told a local news station that this symptom was actually the result of a “leaky brain.”

As INSIDER previously reported, Jackson has been diagnosed with a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak – meaning the fluid surrounding her brain was leaking out of her nose. This was likely caused by head trauma received during a car accident in 2013.

About six months later, another case of CSF made headlines when People reported on Greg Phillpotts, a man who also had a misdiagnosed runny nose. Both Phillpotts and Jackson underwent minimally invasive procedures that corrected the leak.


People found creatures in places they probably shouldn’t have been.

Photo courtesy Katie HolleyA roach found in the ear of one woman.

There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than finding a creature where it doesn’t belong, and several people could attest to that in 2018.

First, there was Lisa Fleming who found maggots growing in the folds of her skin. A doctor previously told INSIDER that Flemming, who appeared on “My 600-Lb Life,” likely experienced wound myiasis – an infection that occurs when a fly puts uts larvae in open wounds on a person’s skin.

In May, Katie Holley spoke to SELF after discovering a roach in her ear. After experiencing trouble hearing, Holley went to a doctor who assumed she had ear wax build up. After an examination, however, they discovered a roach had burrowed itself deep in her ear.

“I could feel all of those spiky legs being pulled through the little tiny hole,” Holley told INSIDER in May. “I try not to be grossed out by things, but this was disgusting.”


The Keystone virus, which had previously only been known to infect animals, was found in a Florida boy.

When a 16-year-old boy arrived at a Florida urgent care with a 100-degree fever and a rash that spread across his chest, back, arms, and face, doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him. After numerous tests, it was determined that the boy was infected with the Keystone virus.

The virus, which is transmitted via mosquito bites, had only been found in animals prior to the June discovery. According to USA Today, symptoms include a rash, mild fever, and brain inflammation, the latter of which can be extremely dangerous.


Read more:
A mosquito virus that had never been identified in humans was found in a Florida boy – here’s what to know about the Keystone virus


Period cramps can hurt way more than a heart attack.

Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDERThis fact opened up a larger conversation about women and heart attack symptoms.

Two years ago, Quartz published a story about menstrual pain, in which a professor said period cramps can be “almost as bad as having a heart attack.” In March 2018 – thanks to that quote – the story went viral on Twitter.

It also prompted a sobering blog post from gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter, who wrote that many women don’t experience pain with heart attacks.

“If you are waiting for terrible, excruciating chest pain to tell you that you are having a heart attack, well, you are going to miss the heart attack,” she wrote. “It would be dangerous for women to think that a heart attack should be at least as bad as their menstrual cramps.”

Chest pain and discomfort are still the most common heart attack signs, but women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw, according to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.


A woman said her toes rotted when she got an IUD.

Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDERThis is a rare complication that doesn’t represent the typical IUD experience.

In a report published by Cosmopolitan in June, 25-year-old Tanai Smith said she lost her ovaries, uterus, and toes after getting an intrauterine device, or IUD, for birth control.

Three years after the IUD was inserted, Smith said it pushed out of her uterus and broke into pieces that spread throughout her abdomen. After they were surgically removed, Smith’s ovaries and uterus became “blackened,” she told Cosmopolitan. Later, she developed sepsis, and lack of blood flow to her toes cause the tissue to die and turn black.

Smith’s story is tragic, but she experienced extremely rare complications that don’t represent the typical IUD experience, a gynecologist previously told INSIDER. There’s a 0.1% chance of an IUD pushing through the wall of the uterus, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.


A woman went brain dead after trying a soy sauce cleanse.

ffolas/ShutterstockThe woman reportedly suffered from central pontine myelinolysis.

In December, several outlets reported on a woman who went brain dead after attempting the soy sauce cleanse – a diet that required her to drink a litre of soy sauce in less than two hours. The woman reportedly suffered from central pontine myelinolysis, a neurological disorder that occurs when the body’s sodium levels rise quickly, pull water from the brain cells, and cause nerve damage.

As INSIDER previously reported, the woman is currently unable to talk, swallow, or speak.


Scientists found evidence that insect-borne diseases will become far more common in the US.

Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesDragon Mosquito Control employee Devin Hanington sprays a swamp to help curb the mosquito population June 9, 2005 in Stratham, New Hampshire.

In November the Trump administration released the National Climate Assessment, a report that analyses the possible consequences of climate change in the US.

In the report, scientists hypothesized that the gradual increase in average temperature would lead to a growth in the geographical range of disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes and ticks. This would put more Americans at risk for various infections and diseases.

For example, the number of West Nile virus cases in the United States will more than double in the next 30 years. But this won’t be the only disease that surges. Zika virus, Lyme disease, dengue, and other infectious diseases are expected to become much more common over the next few decades.


Read more:
A major climate report predicts West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases will become far more common in the US


A woman warned other parents after her infant died in a car seat.

supafly/FlickrThe child died from positional asphyxia, which occurs when someone is in a position that prevents them from breathing

In an October 30 interview on the “Today” show, Lisa Smith said her 17-month-old daughter, Mia, had been sleeping in a car seat at a home daycare in June 2015 but never woke up.

An investigation found Mia died from positional asphyxia, which occurs when someone is in a position that prevents them from breathing. It may happen when a baby’s head slumps forward as they sit or sleep, resulting in a blocked airway.

The risk of positional asphyxia is one reason children shouldn’t be left unsupervised in sitting or carrying devices, experts say. The American Academy of Pediatrics says car seats, in particular, should be used only for travel.


Chemicals found in makeup, toothpaste, and soap could trigger early puberty.

iStockEarly puberty can increase one’s risk of developing cancer and fertility issues down the line.

A study published in December found that girls whose mothers used chemically-loaded personal care products – like makeup, toothpaste, and soap – are more likely to hit puberty early. Though this topic has been explored in the past, this was the first study to look at chemical exposure in utero.

Early puberty can have serious health consequences. Kim Harley, an associate adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the study’s researchers, told INSIDER that early puberty is associated with a higher risk of developing reproductive cancers, like breast cancer and ovarian cancer, later in life. It is also linked to fertility issues.

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