Kangkong is also known as water glorybind, water spinach, water convolvulus and swamp cabbage
It is a popular dish in Asia and normally eaten stir fried with shrimps, garlic and/or chili paste (belacan). As kangkung is a water based plant with hollow stems, it is not surprising that leeches can breed in it. The following is a story (I am not sure true or not) of a boy who have died after eating a dish of stir fried kangkung:
A boy was brought to a well known clinic after complaints of stomach main and diarrhea for 2 days.
The parents have attempted to give the boy all types of medicine to ease the pain but nothing seemed to work. The doctor then proceed to question on the food that the boy had eaten for the past 2 days. According to the parents, the boy had not been eating anything for the past 2 days as he had no appetite. He only drank milk and even that also causes him to vomit.
Upon further questioning, it was discovered that the boy ate kangkung at a restaurant the night before he started having diarrhea. The doctor immediately performed an x-ray and found that in the intestine of the boy contained many small leeches- that have most likely been bred by one or a few leeches that accompanied the vegetable. As kangkung is a dish that is typically not cooked long (to preserve the crispy bite of the vegetable), the leech may survive the fire.
My views on this:
This is the first time that I’ve heard about the case of leeches breeding in someone’s stomach. Microorganisms enter our body all the time and our stomach acid will kill most of them. Leeches are probably not found in kangkung but in a variety of other water based plants. For the leech to be able to breed easily in such an unfavorable environment, the boy’s overall health must have been compromised prior to that.
When I stayed in Thailand, we eat kangkung all the time because it is easily available and taste delicious when cooked with chilies and shrimps. I’ve never heard of any similar case there.
Furthermore in the west, raw vegetables in the form of salad is a very common and some of these vegetables are not even properly washed- it is not surprising that a lot of different creepy crawlies make their way into our digestive system. Yes, admittedly food poisoning can be quite common with unwashed vegetables but it is normally not severe unless the food is contaminated with poisonous substance or of those that the pesticides on the food is not washed off. Or sometimes the food handlers, well, never wash their hands after visiting the loo doing the ‘big business’.
When it comes to illness like leeches or worms that survive our intestines or flesh eating bacteria (necrotising fasciitis), these organisms seemed to be getting a VIP pass either out of the acid juices of our digestive system or the killer Tcells in our immune. Take the flesh eating bacteria for instance, which is considered common in many lakes (sedimented non flowing water). You get a group of people who play and splash water around lakes all the time.
How come out so many people who do that, only a few contracted the flesh eating bacteria? After all, everyone played in the water and had the same exposure.
There are factors that are not within our control and there are those that we have control over. Maybe it is really the physical health and constitution of a person that is so weak that these micro-organism could take over.
This also reminds me of a true story told to me by my mother. When she was just a young nurse, she was assigned to a pediatric ward. One night, she was doing her rounds in the ward and came across this boy, who had been very sickly. It was a little dark but my mother caught sight of a movement near his nose. It was a worm, wiggling out!
My mom suddenly had a bad gut feeling when she saw that- she felt the boy would not be able to survive for long. Sadly, he passed away in the night itself. My mom told me that sometimes when we see worms starting to come out of the body of a very sick person, it would be a bad sign that the body of the host is no longer contusive that even worms start to leave. But then, it is not always true as sometimes a person can get tapeworms and it can be treated with medication. However, in the case of my mom’s patient, the boy was already very weak and sick.
What we can control: our mind, attitude and the will to live
To me, a person’s emotional well-being, overall happiness and the will to survive may contribute into the onset, damage and final consequence of the disease. If overall we are happy and have many things to live and look forward to, our immune system would be as robust as our emotional state. Even though we may be born with a weak predisposition but if we can find within us the gratitude and contentment in being alive, in having a good reason to wake up and go through each day our immune system ain’t gonna allow our body to go down without a fight.
Plus if we know how to set appropriate boundaries in our lives (ie learning to say no to unreasonable requests or things we are not comfortable with), hopefully our immune system would be able to differentiate who’s who. It aint gonna allow these antigens or dangerous microorganism to have a field day and free pass around our body.
Note: Article revised in April 2022.