In 1944 A Physician Began Ejaculating Thousands Of Deadly Parasite Eggs In The Name Of Science

Schistosoma illustration. Image credit: royaltystockphoto.com/Shutterstock.com

The history of medicine is filled with heroes who went that extra step for science, heroically drinking vomit infected with yellow fever to see how it spreads or pumping hydrogen gas up their own anus to see if that's a good way of locating bullet wounds.

One such man, though lesser known for reasons that will become apparent later, was Claude Barlow. Barlow was a doctor and researcher who was interested in schistosomiasis, a painful, chronic, and occasionally fatal disease caused by trematode worms of the genus SchistosomaThe disease – as he was about to experience for himself on one trip to Egypt in July 1944 – can cause everything from abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting to anorexia, diarrhea, and bloody stools.

Barlow's research concerned whether US troops could potentially bring the infection back with them, and infect US snails as a second host. After attempts to mail US snails (via snail mail) to himself failed because they kept dying in transit, he took it upon himself – knowing full well how nasty the disease could be – to sit down and become the envelope and deliver them back home himself. He placed 224 schistosome larvae on his arm over the course of 21 days to let them in.

This wasn't his first rodeo. He had transported parasitic worms inside himself from China, deliberately infecting himself in order to study Fasciolopsis buski. When he returned home, he distributed the worms from his own intestines (via the usual route) to remarkably pleased colleagues. Postcards seem incredibly orthodox compared to whipping out a deadly parasite.

The Schistosoma worms, however, were not as pleasant.

He and Billy – a baboon he had also filled with the parasite – headed home to the US, the only major incident being that Billy escaped and scared the other passengers. 

Barlow was already feeling ill when the baboon incident took place, going through sweats and dizzy spells, but this was just the beginning. Eleven weeks after his initial infection, Barlow developed a fever and he began ejaculating eggs in his (now brown) semen. This was probably difficult to concentrate on, given his nausea, difficulty breathing, and blood in his urine.

Three months into his ordeal, his scrotum began "exuding serum", and he began running massive fevers. His bladder was in great distress, and he had to urinate roughly every 20 minutes.

Despite this, he was determined to carry on with the experiment and not seek medical treatment – even though Billy had died of schistosomiasis, which is, at best, a bad omen. He gave patches of his skin to be studied, removed without anesthetic in case it disturbed the parasites, which was a lot more courtesy than they were giving him.

Realizing how dangerous his situation was, he eventually returned to Egypt in order to seek treatment: A highly toxic and risky drug that can cause vascular collapse. It damaged his heart, but a year and a half after giving himself the infection, he finally stopped leaking eggs out of his various fluids and solids. 

Unfortunately, his University didn't have the snails for him to conduct his experiment, and so it was all ultimately pointless. A colleague had attempted to infect what few snails were available and failed

In total, he had passed a whopping 12,000 eggs a day for no reason at all, other than medicine hadn't known beforehand that they could be ejaculated, which is quite difficult to chalk up as a win.

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