Fish that live in your urethra!?!?
I am sure we have all heard tales of swimming down in South America, people peeing while they are swimming, and getting some sort of a fish or parasite in their urethra, and the terror that exists after. Now, I can't even begin to tell you why I have gotten such a slew of emails regarding this in the past week, but I have, so I decided to investigate it. I kind of assumed it was true, and figured that if I went to South America, before I went swimming, I would get to the bottom of this caper. Looks like I have to put on my Encyclopedia Brown cap early!
Are there Urethra loving fish?
Well, here is where here adventure begins. There are fresh water fish known as Candiru (or toothpick fish), that live in the Amazon river. They are small translucent fish that act as parasites: they live in the gills of many of the catfish in the amazon, sucking their blood as food. The Candiru have small, sharp, teeth that can penetrate flesh. Since the 1800's there have been numerous reports by scientists that have observed men and boys with amputated penises in various South American tribes, and other males of the same tribes, that would go into the water to bath, fish, etc and wear covering for their penises. Due to language barriers and keen observation, these scientists deduced that the Candiru fish are attracted to urine so swim up in it and into the urethra. The fish do have barbs on their heads, and it was assumed that the fish swim up the urethra as far as they can go, then hook in with barbs, hang out, and suck on blood. At the time, the only way that the fish could be removed was through amputation. Yikes! Well, this is really only fiction. The only documented case was in 1997, but the issue is that the facts do not add up: the video of the cystoscopy (the procedure in which a scope is inserted into the penis through the urethra) appears to show that the fish was pulled out by its tail. That wouldn't be possible because the barbs from the fishes head would dig into the canal and not come out easily. The specimen of the fish had all barbs intact. Plus they have found that these fish are not attracted to urine at all. So really, the whole story seems to be false as far as males are concerned. All of the penis amputations were related to piranha bites, and males cover their penises to prevent the risk of being bitten by piranhas that are in the water. Looks like those scientists needed to think outside the box a little bit!
But, there is some bad news for ladies: the Candiru fish have been found on multiple occasions in women's vaginas! They were once touted as fish that entered the anus and penile urethra...which are both false accusations. They seem to have an easier time entering the vaginal canal and hooking in their barbs to suck blood, possibly due to the size of the entry and the tissue inside the vaginal canal. The good news is that they are easily removable by pushing the fish further in to unhook the barbs, flipping the fish, and pulling them out head first...although I suggest getting that done by a medical professional!
So, I hope you all you men out there feel a little better about swimming in the fresh waters of the Amazon, and having a fish free urethra when you get out of the water...but I never suggest peeing when you swim, its just kind of gross. Ladies, beware when swimming in those same waters- and wear a bathing suit, that will keep those pesky fish out of your vaginas! Rest your minds at ease and swim away (well, except for piranhas, snakes, etc.)!
Yours in Good Health