- A 64-year-old woman in Australia underwent a biopsy, resulting in the discovery and removal of a live 3-inch worm from her brain.
- The worm, typically found in carpet pythons, was identified as the larva of the Ophidascaris robertsi roundworm, not previously known to infest humans.
- It’s suspected the patient ingested the worm’s eggs from vegetation near a python habitat or through contaminated hands.
In an unprecedented medical incident in Australia, a live worm was extracted from a woman’s brain at Canberra Hospital. Surgeon Hari Priya Bandi was performing a biopsy on a 64-year-old patient when she unexpectedly discovered and removed the parasite, which measured an astounding 8 centimeters (3 inches) in length.
“I just thought: ‘What is that? It doesn’t make any sense. But it’s alive and moving,’” Bandi revealed in an interview with The Canberra Times newspaper. “It continued to move with vigor. We all felt a bit sick,” she elaborated, speaking of her operating team’s response.
Surprisingly, this worm wasn’t just any parasite. Identified as the larva of an Australian native roundworm called Ophidascaris robertsi, this creature was not previously recognized as a human parasite. Its natural habitat? Carpet pythons.
Detailing the background of the case, infectious diseases physician Sanjaya Senanayake, who co-authored an article with Bandi in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, recalled the moment he learned of the discovery. “I got a call saying: ‘We’ve got a patient with an infection problem. We’ve just removed a live worm from this patient’s brain,’” he recounted.
The patient had previously been hospitalized for various symptoms, including forgetfulness, worsening depression, abdominal pain, and more. Scans showed anomalies in her brain, and a brain biopsy was scheduled. The expectation was to uncover a cancerous growth or an abscess, but no one was prepared for the actual discovery.
“This patient had been treated … for what was a mystery illness that we thought ultimately was a immunological condition because we hadn’t been able to find a parasite before and then out of nowhere, this big lump appeared in the frontal part of her brain,” Senanayake described.
He recalled the shock in the operating room, stating, “Suddenly, with her (Bandi’s) forceps, she’s picking up this thing that’s wriggling. She and everyone in that operating theater were absolutely stunned.”
Fortunately for the patient, she regained consciousness without any complications after the extraction. “She was so grateful to have an answer for what had been causing her trouble for so very long,” shared Bandi.
Following the procedure, the patient was prescribed antiparasitic drugs and discharged. Her neuropsychiatric symptoms showed improvement but persisted to some extent. Senanayake mentioned, “She’s done OK, but obviously because this is a new infection, we’re keeping a close eye on her.”
The origin of the infection is intriguing. The worm’s eggs are typically shed in snake feces which then contaminates grass consumed by small mammals. These mammals, in turn, are preyed upon by snakes, continuing the cycle. The patient resides near a habitat frequented by carpet pythons and often forages for a native vegetable known as warrigal greens. While she hasn’t been in direct contact with snakes, it’s theorized that she ingested the worm’s eggs either from the greens or via contaminated hands.
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