The 64-year-old Australian woman who was found to have a live parasitic worm inside her brain is the first person to contract the ailment. After discovering a live 8 cm (3.15 inches) roundworm in the woman, doctors and researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) and Canberra Hospital made the discovery.
Following brain surgery, the patient’s carpet python-typical host, the Ophidascaris robertsi roundworm, was removed alive and squirming. The woman’s liver and lungs were thought to have been infected, in addition to other bodily organs. According to a statement by Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease specialist at the ANU and Canberra Hospital, “This is the first-ever human case of Ophidascaris to be described in the world.”
“To our knowledge, this is also the first instance in which a mammalian species’ brain, whether human or not, has been involved.
The roundworm’s larvae are typically found in small animals and marsupials, which the python eats, allowing the snake to go through its full life cycle. According to the researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the woman most likely contracted the virus via Warrigal greens, a variety of local grass, which she plucked nearby and cooked.
Pythons that live in the grasses would have shed the parasite’s eggs through their poo. Roundworms called Ophidascaris Robertsi commonly inhabit the oesophagus and stomach of carpet pythons. Roundworms have been dubbed “incredibly resilient” by ANU and can survive in a variety of conditions.
The woman, from New South Wales in Australia’s southeast, was most likely infected either by touching the local grass or by eating it, according to the researchers. The woman’s symptoms started showing up in January 2021, according to Karina Kennedy, director of clinical microbiology at Canberra Hospital and associate professor at the ANU Medical School. After three weeks, as her symptoms grew worse, the woman was taken to the hospital.
She first experienced stomach ache and diarrhoea, which were followed by a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath. In hindsight, it seems likely that these symptoms were brought on by roundworm larvae moving from the bowel into the liver and lungs, among other organs. No parasites were found in the lung biopsy or the respiratory samples, which were both done, she noted.
At the time, it was similar to attempting to find a needle in a haystack to detect the minute larvae, which had never before been linked to human illness. The woman began to experience sadness and forgetfulness by 2022, which led to an MRI scan that revealed a brain injury.
An investigation by a hospital neurosurgeon led to the startling discovery of the worm, whose identity was later verified by parasitology specialists. Senanayake claimed that the incident highlighted the rising danger of disease transmission from animals to people.
“In the past 30 years, there have been around 30 new infections worldwide. Around 75% of newly developing illnesses worldwide are zoonotic, meaning that they have spread from animals to people. Coronaviruses are among them, he added.
There won’t be a pandemic like SARS, COVID-19, or Ebola since this Ophidascaris illness is not contagious between humans. However, since the snake and parasite are widespread around the world, it is conceivable that more cases may be identified in other nations in the years to come.The woman, who had not entirely recovered from a case of pneumonia before contracting the worm, is still being watched by medical professionals.