In First, Doc Pulls Live Worm From Human Brain

Australian neurosurgeon was as grossed out as you are
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2023 9:50 AM CDT
Updated Sep 2, 2023 6:30 AM CDT
In First, Doc Pulls Live Worm From Human Brain
Image B: The live third-stage larval form of Ophidascaris robertsi. Image C: The roundworm under stereomicroscope.   (Hossain M/Kennedy KJ/Wilson HL)

The call went out to Dr. Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician at Canberra Hospital in Australia, from a neurosurgeon who'd just performed brain surgery. "Oh, my god, you wouldn't believe what I just found in this lady's brain," Dr. Hari Priya Bandi said, according to Senanayake. "It's alive and wriggling." Pulling a live 3-inch-long roundworm from the brain of a human patient was not in Bandi's plans that day, as the Guardian reports. If it had been, she might not have come into work. As Bandi tells CNN, "I've only come across worms using my not-so-good gardening skills" and "I find them terrifying." And probably more so now. Per CNN, the case, described in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, marks the "first discovery of a live worm inside a human brain."

The female patient, 64, from New South Wales, had been admitted to the hospital in January 2021 with symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, dry cough, and night sweats. By the following year, she was also experiencing forgetfulness and depression, which led doctors to perform an MRI scan of her brain, per the Guardian. The scan revealed an abnormality in the right frontal lobe, but it was unclear what that abnormality was. A live roundworm "was definitely not what we were expecting," Bandi tells the BBC. There was a definite "yuck factor," adds Senanayake. Sent to a government agency lab following the June 2022 surgery, the roundworm was quickly identified as Ophidascaris robertsi, a species typically found in pythons.

It turns out the patient liked to harvest native grasses from a lake area inhabited by carpet pythons. Doctors believe there may have been python poop containing roundworm eggs on the grasses collected and later ingested. The roundworm not only invaded her brain, but likely her lungs and liver, too, CNN reports. The woman received additional treatment along with medication to counteract inflammation, which can be harmful to organs. "That poor patient," says Senanayake, per the Guardian. "You don't want to be the first patient in the world with a roundworm found in pythons," but "she was so courageous and wonderful." The patient, who is immunodeficient due to a pre-existing medical condition, is recovering well and continues to be monitored. (More strange stuff stories.)

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