A North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea last week remains in critical condition after he was shot several times fleeing North Korea. While operating on the soldier over the weekend, South Korean surgeons discovered a number of parasites including an almost footlong roundworm — a sign of dire conditions in North Korea.

The soldier was shot at least five times as he made his way across the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the highly guarded two and a half mile border that separates North and South Korea. After several surgeries, it is unclear whether the soldier will survive, according to the Associated Press Saturday. The soldier’s name and rank were not released. While attempting to repair the soldier’s digestive tract, surgeons found dozens of parasites including a ten and a half inch long roundworm.

“I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” said the head of the soldier's medical team, Lee Cook-jong, in a press conference.

Roundworms are parasites that live in the intestines of their victims. The parasites are particularly prevalent in poverty-stricken areas according to the Cleveland Clinic, and poor hygiene can be a contributing factor to contracting them. Roundworms are contagious and often are often spread through contact with infected feces.

North Korean farmers lack chemical fertilizer and often use human feces to fertilize crops, according to the Washington Post Monday, which can help parasites spread.

Parasites are not uncommon for North Koreans.

A 2014 study by South Korean doctors on women who have defected from North Korea found that seven of the 17 person sample size had parasites, according to the New York Times.

Lack of food in another issue in North Korea. Around two in five people in North Korea are undernourished according to a United Nations report released in March. A North Korean famine in the 1990s killed more than one million people. Reports have also detailed that soldiers, who typically are ranked higher to receive rations, have been told to plunder local farms.

Peter Preiser a professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University spoke to the BBC about what the parasite found in the soldier means.

“What [parasites] all do is take nutrients away from your body,” said Preiser. “So [even] if most of them might go unnoticed, they all indicate a poor health status. To put it simply, people who have parasites are not healthy.”

DMZ South Korean soldiers stand guard at the border village of Panmunjom between South and North Korea at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on February 27, 2013 in South Korea. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/GETTY