Worm plucked from brain of woman in Australia

Infectious Disease expert Sanjaya Senanayake was working the wards in the Canberra Hospital in Australia that day when he got a call from his neurosurgical colleagues.

He did not expect the news that came next.

The 3-inches long, “Ophidascaris robertsi,” is a roundworm that is usually found in pythons, making this the first time this parasite had been identified in a human being.

“It’s not meant to develop in her. It’s meant to develop in small mammals and marsupials. So she was an accidental host,” said Senanayake. The parasite had made its way through the woman’s lungs, liver and finally arrived in her brain, he said.

A neurosurgeon investigating a patient’s mystery neurological symptoms in an Australian hospital was surprised to pluck a 3-inch wriggling worm from her brain. Canberra Health Services / AP

Bandi and Senanayake are among the authors of an article in the latest edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases that describes the case.

Senanayake said the patient resided near a lake that was also home to carpet pythons. And while she had come in no direct snake contact, the woman often collected native vegetation from around the lake where she lived to use in cooking. 

This led doctors to believe she may have unknowingly consumed the worm’s eggs due to contamination.

These larvaes are known to survive for a long time in animal hosts, researchers said, warning of more cases popping up among humans.

“We’ve had 30 new infections in the last 30 years appear in the world,” Senanayake said, adding that almost three quarters of them jump from the animal population.

It is a result of what he described as human encroachment on natural animal habitat. 

“We will see more of these types of infections,” he added.

CORRECTION (Aug. 29, 2023, 11:01 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated how doctors think the patient ingested the parasite. It was by unknowingly consuming worm eggs, not python eggs.

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