Oh Good ― Live Parasite Found In Woman's Brain In World-First Case

The worm was discovered in Australia.

It’s a little cloudy, you’re officially back from the bank holidays, and now, there’s a new type of brainworm to occupy your nightmares. I can only apologise.

Last year, Canberra surgeons found an eight-centimetre species of parasitic worm in an Australian woman’s brain. The (live) species is named Ophidascaris robertsi ― it’s a roundworm variant and historically had only infected carpet pythons.

“Humans infected with O. robertsi larvae would be considered accidental hosts, although human infection with any Ophidascaris species has not previously been reported,” experts recently shared in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The BBC reports that it could well have been in the host’s brain for two months before being caught (help). Here’s what we know about the bug:

The affected woman had been feeling unwell for a while

As you might expect, the 64-year-old patient had been suffering from some severe symptoms for a while before the worm was discovered. These included “3 weeks of abdominal pain and diarrhoea, followed by dry cough and night sweats.”

“Her medical history included diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, and depression,” the researchers added. The initial treatment had been for pneumonia, but the prescription she’d been given hadn’t fully worked.

So, doctors admitted the woman to the hospital, and later, scans found “an atypical lesion within the right frontal lobe of the brain”. After a biopsy, the surgeons spotted the worm.

Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases doctor at Canberra Hospital, said that “Everyone [in] that operating theatre got the shock of their life when [the surgeon] took some forceps to pick up an abnormality and the abnormality turned out to be a wriggling, live 8cm light red worm.”

Alright, alright, I won’t complain about my job for a while.

The woman likely picked the worm up by eating foraged veggies

The authors of the paper theorised that the woman had come into contact with the worm after eating grasses that she had picked from a nearby lake.

“Despite no direct snake contact, she often collected native vegetation, warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides), from around the lake to use in cooking. We hypothesized that she inadvertently consumed O. robertsi eggs either directly from the vegetation or indirectly by contamination of her hands or kitchen equipment,” the experts say. Ah, lovely.

Luckily, the woman is recovering well post-surgery.

Cases like these might become more common, doctor warns

Though the species had never successfully made home in so much as a sheep before, never mind a human, Dr. Senanayake (associate professor of medicine at the Australian National University) told the BBC that cases like these might become more common.

After all, 30 new types of infections have appeared in the past 30 years, the Australian National University found. 75% of these are ‘zootonic’ (meaning they jumped from animals to humans).

“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,” the doctor told the BBC.

And with that, I wish you a happy week.