A beetle in the bladder

beetle bladderInsects and spiders colonising the human body were a regular feature of medical journal articles in the 19th century.  For instance, there’s the woman with spiders in her eyes, and the remarkable case of the boy who appeared to have a millipede colony in his stomach. This report involving a beetle appeared in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in 1838 and caused quite a splash, cropping up repeatedly in the literature for some decades afterwards.

A robust young man of 23, who had never been ill except just previously of fever, was attacked suddenly by symptoms of the most acute inflammation of the urinary bladder, with intense desire to make water, pains in the perineum, and discharge of mucous flocculent and bloody urine.

Flocculent means ‘resembling wool’; in this context it suggests coagulation or a lumpy texture.  Not very nice, in other words.

He was treated by leeches to the perineum, anodyne local applications, and copious demulcent drinks, but without the least relief.

Demulcent means literally ‘soothing’, though in medicine it denotes types of medicine which soothe mucous membranes. Common demulcent agents still used today include honey and glucose syrup, both of which are often found in cough medicines.

After suffering intensely for five days, he found himself unable to pass his water, and this evidently from some mechanical obstruction in the urethra. To relieve this, the author was sent for; but before a catheter could be introduced, he discharged a body, of the size of a pea, covered by purulent matter; it was followed by the escape of a considerable quantity of urine, mixed with pus, and immediate relief of all his symptoms. On closely examining the discharged body, it was found to contain a little beetle (Ptinus fur), which died directly on its exposure to the atmosphere.

ptinus fur
Ptinus fur

Ptinus fur is the white-marked spider beetle, a small (typically 3 mm) omnivorous insect.  In some parts of the world (e.g. Canada) it is a significant pest which can attack grain and flour stores.  It is also the scourge of the museum entomologist, since it will happily much its way through rows of dead insects in glass cases.  As one expert observes, the species is often found in association with humans, although living in a man’s bladder is taking this association to extremes.

The patient recovered in three days. The author quotes several cases of a similar kind, in which worms, larvae, insects, and one from Schrader, where living slugs were discharged from the bladder…

I have just dug up this report, and indeed sixteen slugs are reported to have emerged from a small boy’s bladder. I will return to this case another time.

…and speculates at great length and with much ingenuity on their origin; but this our readers can do too, and perhaps with equal profit.

And I hope my readers will too.

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