An 8-centimeter worm has been found alive in the brain of a woman in Australia, and researchers say it is the first time the parasite has ever been discovered in humans.
The worm was extracted from the patient’s brain during surgery in the Australian capital, Canberra, in June 2022.
The extraordinary case has been documented in the latest edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The red 8-centimeter-long worm was alive and wriggling when it was pulled from the patient’s brain. Scientists believe it could’ve been there for up to two months before it was extracted.
Sanjaya Senanayake, an associate professor of medicine at the Australian National University and an infectious disease physician at Canberra Hospital was one of the researchers involved in the case.
He described to VOA the moment the surgeon made the unexpected discovery.
"She and everyone (in) that operating theatre got the shock of their life when she took some forceps to pick up an abnormality and the abnormality turned out to be a wriggling, live 8-centimeter light red worm," he said. "Even if you take away the yuk factor, this is a new infection never documented before in a human being."
The 64-year-old Australian patient had complained of stomach pains, diarrhea and depression. She was admitted to the hospital in January 2021. A scan later revealed an abnormality in her brain.
In June 2022, she underwent a biopsy at Canberra Hospital, and the parasite was found.
Senanayake warns that the case highlights the increased danger of diseases and infections being passed from animals to people.
"These new infections are appearing and most of them have come from the animal world and entered the human world, and this is another one of them, and just shows as a human population burgeons, we move closer and encroach on animal habitats," he said. "That domestic, wild animal, wild flora and human interaction is going to lead to more of these novel infections appearing."
The research team suspects larvae, or juvenile parasites, were also present in other organs in the woman’s body, including the lungs and liver.
The research team included scientists and infectious diseases, immunology and neurosurgical doctors from the Australian National University, CSIRO, the national science agency, the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.
The patient is reported to be recovering well.
The roundworm is usually found in carpet pythons, which are common in Australia. It’s thought the non-venomous snake might have shed the parasite via its feces into grass or plants touched by the patient in the Australian state of New South Wales.