Help! Maggots live in me!

And worse still, doctors haven't got a clue how to treat me...

Published by: Phillipa Cherryson and Laura Hinton
Published on: 22 September 2011

W hen you're bitten by a gnat, the last thing you should do is scratch it, right? Well, the person who said that must never have been bitten!
‘It's driving me crazy,' I cried through gritted teeth to my mate Danielle, 18.
‘It's very red and swollen,' she winced, looking at the bite on the back of my neck.
I'd been shopping down the high street two weeks earlier when I'd felt a nasty nip, and hadn't stopped scratching since.
Normally, antiseptic cream eased the pain, but this must have been one mean mozzie.
‘It looks like a boil,' she cringed. ‘There's a huge white head.'
‘Please, just pop it,' I begged.
Raising her eyebrows, she went to wash her hands. ‘The things I do for you,' she muttered.
Pushing my hair out of the way, she squeezed the 10p-size mound. Slowly, I could feel the pressure building until - there was a pop!
‘Oh... oh God!' Danielle screamed, jumping back.
‘What?' I cried, spinning around.
That's when I saw what she was staring at on the end of her finger. It was the size of a sesame seed, pale yellow and looked like...
‘A maggot!' I screamed as it wiggled, then stopped moving.
‘I-I felt its pulse,' yelped Danielle, reaching for the closest thing to pop it in, an empty bottle.
It took a moment for my brain to click. Had a maggot just popped out of my neck?! Had it been burrowing in there for two weeks?!
Before I could react, Danielle spun me back around for another look. ‘Is there anything else in there?' she asked, peering in.
As she poked and prodded around, tears tumbled down my cheeks. I couldn't believe it, I was a clean freak, always dusting and vacuuming. But it turned out I was the dirty one!
‘It still feels like there's something in there,' I cried.
Danielle gave my alien lump another squeeze, and then was silent for a second.
‘Don't say there's another one?' I gulped, feeling sick.
‘Yes,' she whispered, depositing a second maggot-like creature beside its mate.
‘What the hell are they?' I moaned, as she wiped away pus dribbling down my back.
‘No idea,' she frowned. ‘But you need to see a doctor.'
She held the bottle to the light, but neither of us was any the wiser after peering at it.
As it was late in the evening, I couldn't even see my GP until the next day. All I could do was toss and turn, thinking about the weird bugs bottled up downstairs. Even worse, I was sure I could feel more of them burrowing about.
Next morning, the lump was still swollen - were there more creatures waiting to burst out? I got an emergency doctor's appointment.
‘They'll know what's wrong,' I told myself. ‘Maybe I've been bitten by some tropical bug.'
The doctor wouldn't even look at the little critters I'd captured, though. ‘Your bite's infected,' she said, brushing me off. ‘You need some antibiotics.'
‘B-but...' I spluttered.
‘It'll clear up in a week,' she added, matter of fact.
Well, she should know. I'd been scratching the bite, probably only had myself to blame.
And maybe me and Danielle had overreacted, maybe they weren't maggots, but just hardened balls of pus?
Still, I was sure one of them had moved... ‘You're imagining things,' I scolded myself, gulping down my antibiotics.
But two weeks on, and they'd made no difference. Instead, the build-up of pressure under my bite grew and, when I ran my finger over it, I was sure I could feel some little lumps beneath the skin, like grains of rice.
Soon my neck and shoulders were aching, too. I felt so ill, I had to take time off work as a credit controller. Was this thing spreading? Was it laying eggs elsewhere? And what was it?!
‘You need to get this checked out,' worried my mum June, 58. She'd been popping over daily to check on me. ‘I think a tropical bug's bitten you.'
‘But I haven't been abroad.'
I had, though, been back to the doctors three more times. On each occasion, they'd told me that I had an infected bite, and given me more antibiotics.
‘It could be a botfly,' she said.
‘Danielle already tested for that,' I sighed.
iThe week before, she'd held clingfilm across the bite. Apparently, it suffocates the parasite burrowing in you, tempting it to the surface. But nothing had happened.
‘I'm taking you back to the doctor,' Mum sighed.
It seemed her pushiness worked, because I was finally referred to a specialist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich.
‘I don't know what it is,' he frowned, examining the now 50p-sized lump on my neck. ‘I need to operate to remove it.'
‘Please,' I sighed. ‘Just get rid of it.'
I was given local anaesthetic, so would be awake throughout. As the scalpel twisted into my neck I felt sick, but it was better than thinking about creepy crawlies under my skin.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the surgeon drop a chunk of my flesh into a dish. But there was no sign of flesh-eating maggots.
‘There was a void - a cavity - inside the section of skin we removed,' the doctor explained. ‘I've never seen anything like it.'
‘A hole?' I repeated. ‘As if something had buried itself in there and set up home?'
‘It explains the pain in your neck and shoulders but, apart from that, I don't know,' he shrugged.
So something had been living in my neck all this time, making itself at home. But where was it now?!
‘We can't go any deeper to explore,' he apologised. ‘If we did, we'd hit a nerve.'
Even though the chunk of skin they removed was sent for testing, it came back clear. So doctors still didn't know what was wrong with me. And worse, other lumps have started appearing across my shoulders and back.
‘The other day, I was vacuuming and felt something tickling my neck,' I told Mum a fortnight ago.
‘What was it?' she asked slowly.
‘Another maggot, I found it taking a dying wiggle on the carpet,' I gulped. ‘It had come out of one of the other lumps.'
I've no idea if there are more maggots to come, and neither do doctors. I've seen 10 in total, although they won't refer me to a tropical diseases clinic because I haven't been abroad.
Yet for two years now I've been clueless. Still, I'm booked in for a biopsy soon, maybe that will bring some answers. Next time you get a mozzie bite, though, think of me... and be careful what you're scratching!

• Doctor Peter Jay Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA, says:
‘The lumps under her skin would signify, in my mind, that she has a form of myasis (fly larva). They enter through some form of open wound. It's very unusual for this to happen in the United Kingdom.
‘Medication, like a dose of Ivermectin, should kill the infection. Then follow this with proper surgical removal. But it's impossible to give a definite answer without an examination.'

Louise Chapman, 35, Abbey Wood, London