In January 2021, a 64-year-old woman from New South Wales, Australia went to a local hospital for abdominal pain, diarrhea, dry cough, fever, and night sweats.
Her symptoms worsened, and by 2022 included forgetfulness and depression. After a scan of her brain revealed abnormal lesions, she underwent surgery. According to the Guardian, this is when the staff at Canberra hospital made a shocking discovery.
While operating on the woman, neurosurgeon Dr. Hari Priya Bandi pulled out an 8cm-long parasitic roundworm, called colleague physician Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, and exclaimed: “Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe what I just found in this lady’s brain — and it’s alive and wriggling.”
The team at the hospital sent the still-very-much-alive worm to the laboratory of a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) scientist. The parasitic worm was identified “as a third-stage larva of Ophidascaris robertsi,” according to the case study published in the September issue of journal Emerging Infectious Diseases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This type of worm is usually found in carpet pythons, which happened to live near the lake area of the patient’s home. The doctors hypothesized that the woman had inadvertently eaten O. robertsi eggs either “directly from the vegetation” or “indirectly by contamination of her hands or kitchen equipment.”
After the worm was removed from her brain, the woman was given medication to address potential larvae that could still be living in other organs. The patient’s case marks the first time the parasite was found in humans, per the Guardian.
The patient is in recovery and being monitored, according to Senanayake. Researchers are looking into whether a preexisting medical condition caused the woman to be immunocompromised and could have enabled the parasite to migrate into her central nervous system.
“That poor patient, she was so courageous and wonderful,” Senanayake told the outlet. “You don’t want to be the first patient in the world with a roundworm found in pythons and we really take our hats off to her. She’s been wonderful.”