Doctors Find 3-Inch-Long Worm in Woman’s Brain

A neurosurgeon pulled this living worm from an Australian woman’s brain. It was a python parasite that had never before been found in people. | Image by CANBERRA HEALTH SERVICES

Scientists discovered a large worm typically found in pythons inhabiting a woman’s brain.

Sanjaya N. Senanayake, associate professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, and his colleagues documented a case in which a worm was found in the brain of a 64-year-old woman from New South Wales in Australia. It is the first known case of a human serving as a host to the specific worm.

The woman had been admitted to a local hospital in 2021 after experiencing abdominal pain and diarrhea. She had suffered from other medical conditions, including diabetes and depression. Scientists treated her with medication and discovered lesions on her lungs, spleen, and liver.

Despite treatment, the woman continued to experience medical issues, returning weeks later due to a fever and cough. However, doctors noticed that the lesions on her lungs had appeared to move. 

Later, the woman began exhibiting forgetfulness and depression, prompting doctors to perform an MRI. The MRI revealed a large mass within the frontal lobe of the woman’s brain.

Doctors performed a biopsy to find out what the mass was. Upon performing the biopsy, doctors discovered a “stringlike structure” within a lesion on the woman’s brain. They removed the structure with a pair of forceps, discovering it to be a live 3-inch-long worm, specifically an Ophidascaris robertsi.

“It was definitely one of those ‘wow’ moments,” said Senanayake, according to Science News. 

Ophidascaris robertsi is a type of nematode typically found infesting carpet pythons, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Following the removal of the parasite, doctors treated the woman with antiparasitic medicine. The woman’s condition has since improved.

Scientists theorized that since she lived near a lake inhabited by carpet pythons and consumed nearby vegetation, she must have either accidentally consumed eggs from the parasite or infected herself through contamination from her hands or kitchen utensils and that the eggs migrated through her body, causing the different lesions and winding up in her brain. 

The scientists said they believe the case could signal an increasing prevalence of animal afflictions transferring to humans.

“In summary, this case emphasizes the ongoing risk for zoonotic diseases as humans and animals interact closely. Although O. robertsi nematodes are endemic to Australia, other Ophidascaris species infect snakes elsewhere, indicating that additional human cases may emerge globally,” reads the study.

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