8cm-long live worm removed from woman's brain in Australia. Experts have a warning

Dristi Sharma
Dristi SharmaAug 29, 2023 | 16:42

8cm-long live worm removed from woman's brain in Australia. Experts have a warning

Amidst a routine day in the hospital ward, Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases specialist at Canberra Hospital, had his daily rhythm disrupted by an unexpected call. Dr Hari Priya Bandi, a distinguished neurosurgeon, urgently reached out with a mix of astonishment and urgency.

"You won't believe what I've just discovered in this woman's brain," Dr Hari Priya Bandi exclaimed, her words tinged with disbelief. What she had stumbled upon was an 8cm-long parasitic roundworm, alive and wriggling.

Photo: Live third-stage larval form of O. robertsi under stereomicroscope /CDC


Around two years ago, in late January 2021, a 64-year-old woman from southeastern New South Wales was initially admitted to her local hospital. She had endured three weeks of abdominal pain and diarrhea, followed by an unrelenting dry cough, fever, and night sweats.

By 2022, her symptoms had escalated to include forgetfulness and depression, prompting her referral to Canberra Hospital. An MRI scan of her brain revealed abnormalities necessitating surgical intervention.

Photo: Live third-stage larval form of Ophidascaris robertsi/CDC

However, the study only came to light recently, when the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released a report detailing the case and uncovering more astonishing facts.

Neurosurgeons regularly deal with infections in the brain, but this was a once-in-a-career finding. No one was expecting to find that
- Dr Sanjaya Senanayake [The Guardian.]
  • It was the world's first case, and the worm was around 8-cm long, and btw it was alive. 
  • The red parasite could have been there for up to two months.
  • She is still being monitored and is recovering well. 

How did the worm end up in her brain?

The Ophidascaris robertsi roundworm (that was found in her brain) is frequently encountered within carpet pythons, which are non-venomous serpents commonly located throughout various regions of Australia.

  • According to the study, it is believed that the woman contracted the roundworm after gathering a native grass variety known as Warrigal greens, from an area near a lake close to her residence.
  • In a report published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, Mehrab Hossain, an Australian authority in parasitology, suggests that the woman likely unintentionally became a host for the roundworm.

  • This was a consequence of utilizing the foraged plants, which had become contaminated with python faeces and the eggs of the parasites, for her cooking. 

Expert warning

As per information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60% of recognized infectious diseases in humans can potentially be transmitted from animals. They further highlighted that a substantial 75% of novel or emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from animals. This specific case serves as a poignant reminder of the persistent threat posed by zoonotic diseases due to the intimate interaction between humans and animals.

While this case pertains to the O. robertsi roundworm native to Australia, it's worth acknowledging that other species of Ophidascaris infect snakes in different parts of the world. This raises the prospect of similar human cases emerging globally in the future.

Last updated: September 01, 2023 | 16:41
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