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Fish in his bladder: Fact or fiction?

Heard the one about the Chinese man with an eel in his bladder? It’s the story zooming around the Internet today and while it seems incredible, and while we can’t confirm that it’s true, it is possible even if highly unlikely.

According to the story, a man went to a spa in China where he dunked himself in a tank of fish. The object of this seemingly bizarre exercise was to allow the fish to nip away at dead skin, a kind of fishy loofah. Pricey spas in the West have actually adopted this practice for use on clients’ feet.

Anyway, all was well until he felt a sharp pain in his penis. Naturally he rushed himself to a clinic where an eel was extracted from his bladder.

While the truth of this story cannot be confirmed, there are medical reports of critters crawling or swimming up the human urethra and finding their way into the bladder.

In India, for instance, doctors found a leech that had wriggled its way into the bladder of a 16-year-old boy. Apparently the leech entered while the boy was partially submerged in a rice paddy. After suffering with unexplained fevers and the feeling of urgently having to urinate for two months, the boy was taken to the doctors who eventually had to operate to remove the creature.

The most famous stories of a fish swimming into a human come from the Amazon with the famous (or infamous) candiru, a class of tiny parasitic catfish. Normally these fish attach themselves to the gills of other fish, or dead or dying creatures, and grab a quick meal, but supposedly, goes the legend, the fish are also attracted to a urine stream. Pee in the water, and they’ll follow the stream into your urethra. (I heard this tale from British scientists – ichthyologists -- I followed into the Brazilian Amazon for a story and when they told me this tale, as I was floating in a river and peeing, they laughed their heads off.) Actual cases are almost impossible to find, however, with most reports coming second or third hand. 

In 2007 Indian doctors reported a case of a small fish in the bladder of a 14-year-old boy. The boy claimed he was cleaning a fish tank and decided use the bathroom while still holding one of his fish. Somehow, the fish escaped his hand and wound up in his penis.

Doctors decided the boy was making it up as a cover for auto-erotic stimulation, the cause of most lost objects in human urethras, including, perhaps, candirus.