In the first case of its kind, Australian doctors discovered a live parasitic roundworm measuring 8 centimetres within the brain of a woman who was experiencing symptoms of memory loss and depression.
According to The Guardian, the patient, a 64-year-old woman from south-eastern New South Wales, was first admitted to her local hospital in late January 2021 after suffering three weeks of abdominal pain and diarrhoea, followed by a constant dry cough, fever, and night sweats.
By 2022, her symptoms also included forgetfulness and depression, prompting a referral to a Canberra hospital. An MRI scan of her brain revealed abnormalities requiring surgery.
“But the neurosurgeon certainly didn’t go in there thinking they would find a wriggling worm,” Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, a Canberra hospital infectious diseases physician, told The Guardian.
“Neurosurgeons regularly deal with infections in the brain, but this was a once-in-a-career finding. No one was expecting to find that,” he added.
Recognised as a third-stage larva belonging to the Ophidascaris robertsi nematode species, this case stands as a unique event in medical history. The incident has been documented in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Generally, this parasitic roundworm inhabits the gastrointestinal systems of carpet pythons native to the Australian state of New South Wales.
“Canberra is a small place, so we sent the worm, which was still alive, straight to the laboratory of a CSIRO scientist who is very experienced with parasites,” Dr Senanayake said.
“He just looked at it and said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is Ophidascaris robertsi’.”
The researchers engaged in her case put forth the theory that a python might have excreted the parasite through its faeces onto the grass. They speculate that the patient likely contracted the parasite by coming into contact with the indigenous grass, subsequently transferring the eggs to food or kitchen utensils, or possibly ingesting them while consuming greens.