In a shocking medical discovery, a 64-year-old Australian woman was found to have a parasitic worm wriggling in her brain. The incident occurred at Canberra Hospital in June 2022, when neurosurgeon Hari Priya Bandi discovered a 3-inch worm inside the patient's skull during a biopsy. The worm, identified as the larva of an Australian native roundworm called Ophidascaris robertsi, was not previously known to be a human parasite.
Prior to the worm's discovery, the patient had been suffering from a "mystery illness" for over a year. She had initially been admitted to her local hospital in southeast New South Wales with symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, a dry cough, and night sweats. Later, she was admitted to Canberra Hospital after experiencing forgetfulness and worsening depression for three months.
Doctors had initially suspected a cancer or abscess after scans showed changes in her brain. However, the unexpected finding of a live worm left the entire operating theater stunned. Bandi described the moment, saying, "I just thought: 'What is that? It doesn't make any sense. But it's alive and moving.' It continued to move with vigor. We all felt a bit sick."
The patient expressed her gratitude for finally understanding the cause of her symptoms. Six months after the worm was removed, her neuropsychiatric symptoms had improved but persisted, according to a journal article authored by Bandi and infectious diseases physician Sanjaya Senanayake.
Further investigation revealed that the woman lived near a carpet python habitat, although she had no direct contact with the snakes. Scientists hypothesized that she may have consumed the worms' eggs from native vegetation called warragal greens, which she foraged for cooking, or from her contaminated hands.
The discovery of a human parasite previously only found in carpet pythons has raised concerns about potential infections in other individuals. Senanayake emphasized the need for vigilance and stated, "Because this is a new infection, we're keeping a close eye on her." The patient remains under medical observation, with her current condition not publicly disclosed.
This unprecedented case highlights the importance of further research into parasites and their potential impacts on human health. The medical community will undoubtedly use this knowledge to better diagnose and treat similar cases in the future.