An Australian neurosurgeon, Hari Priya Bandi, made a startling discovery during a biopsy procedure at Canberra Hospital. Investigating a 64-year-old patient’s puzzling symptoms, Bandi plucked a wriggling worm from the patient’s brain. The parasite, measuring 8 centimeters (3 inches), was extracted using forceps during the procedure.
Bandi described the initial shock of encountering the creature, which turned out to be the larva of an Australian native roundworm known as Ophidascaris robertsi. This particular worm species had never been previously identified as a human parasite. It is commonly found in carpet pythons.
The case, documented by Bandi and infectious diseases physician Sanjaya Senanayake, was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Senanayake recounted receiving a call about a patient with an infection issue and the unexpected discovery of a live worm in her brain.
The patient’s medical journey had been fraught with confusion. Suffering from forgetfulness and worsening depression for three months, she was admitted to the hospital. Brain scans indicated abnormalities, and a biopsy was expected to reveal cancer or an abscess. Previously, the patient had experienced abdominal pain, diarrhea, a dry cough, and night sweats. These symptoms had led to an earlier hospitalization.
The extraction of the live worm from the patient’s brain was a shocking moment for everyone involved. Bandi’s swift action led to the successful removal of the worm without any complications. The patient regained consciousness after the procedure and expressed gratitude for finally receiving an explanation for her long-standing health troubles.
Despite the removal of the worm, the patient’s neuropsychiatric symptoms persisted, although they improved six months after the procedure.
The life cycle of these worms involves snake droppings containing eggs that contaminate grass consumed by small mammals. Other snakes then consume these infected mammals, perpetuating the cycle. While the patient lived near a habitat for carpet pythons, she had no direct contact with snakes. Scientists theorize that she may have consumed the eggs unknowingly through vegetation or contaminated hands.
Though the patient has not returned to the hospital since her surgery and has shown signs of improvement, her case remains closely monitored due to the unique nature of the infection. The incident sheds light on the complex and sometimes bizarre interactions between human health and the natural world.