New version of old cockroach X-ray hoax circulates in Nigeria and Kenya

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Recent social media posts claimed that a patient in a Kenyan hospital was told that he had a cockroach in his lungs after the insect showed up on an X-ray. According to this claim, the patient supposedly travelled all the way to Singapore for treatment only to find out that the Kenyan hospital had been mistaken, and that the cockroach had been on the X-ray machine, not in his lungs. But the claim is false; the photo was digitally altered and is a new version of an old hoax from 2012.

“In a Kenya government hospital, a patient was x-rayed and was told that there was a live cockroach in his chest. ‘You will have to go to Singapore for treatment’ (sic),” reads a tweet published on April 30, 2023.

The account added that the patient was later told at a Singaporean hospital that the cockroach was “not in his chest but inside the X-ray machine”.

A screenshot of the false claim, taken on May 2, 2023

Retweeted more than 7,400 times, the post features an X-ray image showing what looks like a giant cockroach inside a human lung.

The claim was also shared by Kenyan Facebook accounts, including here and here.

Aspiration of foreign objects is fairly common and potentially life-threatening, especially among children younger than three years old (archived here).

In 2018, an Australian man was diagnosed with inhaling a live cockroach after complaining of a “crawling sensation” in his lungs (archived here).

In another instance, a cockroach was discovered in an Indian woman’s skull after she inhaled it in her sleep (archived here).

However, the claim that the X-ray showed a cockroach in the lungs of a Kenyan patient is false.

Old hoax, new image

By doing a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found that the photo had been digitally altered.

The original was published in Radiopedia, an online radiology and imaging case repository, on January 22, 2010 (archived here). It does not include a cockroach.

The caption explained that it showed the X-ray of a 50-year-old male’s chest.

“There is a degree of hyperinflation as evidenced by both increased retrosternal airspace and somewhat flattened and depressed diaphragms,” it said.

A comparison of the image in the false tweet, left, and the original, taken on May 3, 2023

Using the keywords “cockroach in human’s lungs”, we found that this hoax is not new: versions of it have been circulating since 2012, according to fact-checking site Snopes (archived here).

In 2017, a version of the claim referred to a hospital in Zimbabwe, rather than in Kenya, and added a cockroach to an image of a 1954 X-ray of actress Marilyn Monroe (archived here).

And in 2012, a Facebook post without any image told a similar story but placed it in Ghana.