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Parasitic worm found alive in woman’s brain in unprecedented medical case

A 64-year-old Australian woman’s brain was found hosting a live parasitic roundworm, a first-of-its-kind case highlighting the potential for animal-to-human disease transmission.



In an astonishing medical revelation, a 64-year-old Australian woman has been found to harbor a live parasitic worm within her brain. This groundbreaking discovery, reported by The Guardian, marks the first documented human infection of its kind.

The parasitic culprit, Ophidascaris Robertsi, typically associated with carpet pythons, was surgically removed from the patient’s brain.

Astonishingly, the worm was extracted alive. Furthermore, it is suspected that the worm’s larvae had infiltrated other organs within the woman’s body, including her lungs and heart, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Sanjaya Senanayake, an Infectious Disease expert from the Australian National University (ANU) and Canberra Hospital, stated, “This is the first-ever case of Ophidascaris infection in a human being. To our knowledge, it’s also the first case involving the human brain.” These worms’ larvae typically inhabit small mammals and marsupials, which serve as python prey, enabling the parasite’s life cycle to unfold within the snake’s digestive system.

The revelation comes from research published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. Researchers posit that the woman likely contracted the infection from Warrigal greens, a native grass she collected and consumed near her home. These grasses are a habitat for pythons, shedding the parasite’s eggs through their faeces.

Photo: the documentary of the Australian National University.

Described as “incredibly resilient” by ANU, Ophidascaris Robertsi roundworms are a common infestation in carpet pythons, residing within their esophagus and stomach. They exhibit remarkable adaptability across diverse environments.

Hailing from New South Wales, the woman is believed to have contracted the infection through direct contact with the native grass or its ingestion.

Her medical journey began with symptoms in January 2021, escalating over three weeks, leading to hospitalization. Initially presenting abdominal pain and diarrhea, she subsequently experienced fever, cough, and breathlessness.

In hindsight, these symptoms were likely due to the migration of roundworm larvae from her bowels to other organs.

Karina Kennedy, director of clinical microbiology at Canberra Hospital and an associate professor at ANU Medical School, explained that the diagnostic process was akin to finding “a needle in a haystack,” as the microscopic larvae had never previously been associated with human infection.

By 2022, cognitive decline and depression prompted an MRI scan, revealing a brain lesion. To their shock, hospital neurosurgeons uncovered the live worm, later confirmed by parasitology experts.

The case underscores the increasing risk of zoonotic diseases, as explained by Senanayake. While this infection won’t cause a pandemic like SARS or COVID-19, it highlights the potential for animal-human disease transmission.

With the snake and parasite prevalent in various parts of the world, similar cases might arise in the coming years.

The woman, already weakened by prior pneumonia, continues to receive specialized care. Senanayake predicts more cases will emerge, underlining the global concern of diseases jumping from animals to humans.

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