An eight-centimetre-long parasitic roundworm has been removed from a woman’s brain after she suffered mysterious symptoms.
The 64-year-old from New South Wales in Australia was first admitted to her local hospital in January 2021, after three weeks of abdominal pain and diarrhoea, followed by a cough, fever and night sweats.
When symptoms progressed to include forgetfulness and depression in 2022, she was referred to a hospital in Canberra, where an MRI of her brain revealed abnormalities, meaning she would require surgery.
Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician, said: “The neurosurgeon certainly didn’t go in there thinking they would find a wriggling worm.
“Neurosurgeons regularly deal with infections in the brain, but this was a once-in-a-career finding. No one was expecting to find that.”
Dr Hari Priya Bandi, who pulled out the worm, said it had been “alive and wriggling”.
After staff consulted textbooks unsuccessfully, an expert on parasites identified it as Ophidascaris robertsi, usually found in pythons.
The incident is said to be a world-first case. The team believe the woman, who often collected grasses to use in cooking from a site surrounding a lake inhabited by pythons, may have been infected with the parasite by touching or eating the greens - the parasite having been passed on through python faeces.
Dr Senanayake said the patient was treated for other larvae that might have invaded her body.
The woman is recovering well but still being monitored regularly.
“That poor patient, she was so courageous and wonderful,” Dr Senanayake said. “You don’t want to be the first patient in the world with a roundworm found in pythons and we really take our hats off to her. She’s been wonderful.”
Researchers are warning that the case highlights the increased danger of diseases and infections being passed from animals to people.
Dr Senanayake said: “It just shows as a human population burgeons, we move closer and encroach on animal habitats. This is an issue we see again and again, whether it’s Nipah virus that’s gone from wild bats to domestic pigs and then into people, whether it’s a coronavirus like Sars or Mers that has jumped from bats into possibly a secondary animal and then into humans.”