A 64-year-old woman from New South Wales, Australia, had a shocking and unprecedented medical experience when doctors discovered a living roundworm in her brain. The parasite, which is normally found in pythons, is believed to have come from contaminated greens that the woman often collected from around a lake.
A Long and Mysterious Illness
The woman’s ordeal began in early 2021, when she started to suffer from abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, and night sweats. She was initially treated for a parasitic infection and a blood disorder called hypereosinophilic syndrome, but her symptoms persisted and worsened over time. She also developed forgetfulness and depression, which prompted her referral to Canberra Hospital in mid-2022.
There, an MRI scan revealed an abnormality in the right frontal lobe of her brain. Doctors suspected it could be a tumour or a cyst, but they were stunned to find an 8-centimetre-long roundworm during surgery. The worm was alive and wriggling, and had to be carefully extracted with forceps.
A World-First Case of Ophidascaris robertsi
The worm was identified as Ophidascaris robertsi, a species of roundworm that is commonly found in carpet pythons. This is the first documented case of this parasite infecting a human, according to the researchers who published their findings in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The patient lives near a lake area where carpet pythons are known to inhabit. She often collected native grasses, including warrigal greens, from around the lake to use in cooking. The doctors and scientists involved in her case hypothesise that she was infected by ingesting or touching the greens that were contaminated with python faeces containing the worm eggs.
A Remarkable Recovery and a Scientific Discovery
The patient recovered well after the surgery and was discharged from the hospital. She was given anti-parasitic medication to prevent any recurrence of the infection. She also underwent cognitive rehabilitation to improve her memory and mood.
The case has been described as a “once-in-a-career finding” by one of the patient’s doctors, Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician at the Australian National University’s College of Health and Medicine. He said the case highlights the importance of being aware of emerging and unusual infections, especially in a country like Australia where wildlife and humans often interact.