Doctors in Australia have removed an 8cm long live worm from the brain of a 64-year-old woman. This is the first-ever case of this new type of parasitic infection in humans. The worm, known as Ophidascaris robertsi, was still alive when it was taken out during surgery.
A team of researchers, including experts from the Australian National University (ANU), believe that the worm’s larvae might have also been present in other organs of the woman’s body, such as the lungs and liver.
“This is the world’s first documented case of Ophidascaris infection in humans.”According to Sanjaya Senanayake, a co-author of the study and a prominent infectious disease specialist at ANU
This is the first instance of a fully grown Ophidascaris worm living in the brain of any mammal, whether human or not.
The woman from southeastern New South Wales, Australia, likely contracted the roundworm while collecting a type of native grass called Warrigal greens near a lake close to her residence. This is where a python might have shed the parasite through its feces.
The woman started experiencing symptoms in January 2021. It begins with abdominal pain and diarrhea, followed by fever, cough, and shortness of breath. She admitted to a local hospital later that month after experiencing three weeks of abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Also, she had a persistent dry cough, fever, and night sweats.
Doctors suspect that these symptoms were a result of the roundworm larvae migrating from her intestines to other organs like the liver and lungs. Initially, the tissue samples did not show any parasites despite conducting respiratory samples and a lung biopsy.
By 2022, the woman’s memory and thought processes began to change subtly. She displayed signs of forgetfulness and depression, leading to an MRI scan that revealed an unusual tissue injury in the right frontal lobe of her brain.
During this scan, neurosurgeons at Canberra Hospital discovered the unexpected eight-centimeter roundworm. Parasitology experts and molecular studies further confirmed this finding.
Normally, this type of worm commonly found in carpet pythons. The larvae of this worm can found in small mammals and marsupials. Pythons consume these animals, completing the worm’s life cycle.
Typically, the worm resides in a python’s esophagus and stomach, and it lays its eggs in the host’s feces. Humans are the accidental hosts for Ophidascaris robertsi larvae.
The researchers say that the potential risks of diseases and infections spreading from animals to humans as their habitats increasingly overlap. Dr. Senanayake emphasizes that around 75% of emerging infections globally are zoonotic. This means they originate from animals and transmit to humans, including viruses like coronaviruses.