Neurosurgeon Removes Live Worm From Woman’s Brain After Months With Mystery Symptoms CBC News

A neurosurgeon studying a woman's mysterious symptoms at an Australian hospital says she ripped a wriggling worm out of the patient's brain.

dr Hari Priya Bandi was performing a biopsy through a hole in the 64-year-old patient's skull at Canberra Hospital last year when she pulled out the three-inch parasite with forceps.

“I just thought, ‘What is this? It makes no sense. But it's alive and moving,'” Bandi was quoted as saying by The Canberra Times newspaper on Tuesday.

“It continued to move vigorously. We all felt a little bit sick,” Bandi added of her surgical team.

The specimen was the larval form of a roundworm native to Australia, previously not known to be a human parasite Ophidascaris robertsi. The worms are commonly found in carpet pythons.

VIEW | Shocking discovery:

WATCH: Doctors in Australia describe finding a live worm in a woman's brain

Doctors describe their shock at the removal of a live, 8-centimeter parasitic worm from a patient's brain in Australia

Bandi and Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease doctor from Canberra, are authors of an article about the extraordinary medical case published in the latest edition the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

This is the first occurrence of such a parasite in a human, according to Senanayake, who said he was in the hospital in June last year when the worm was found.

“I got a call saying, ‘We have a patient with an infection problem. We just removed a live worm from this patient's brain,'” Senanayake told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

changes in their brain

In January 2021, the patient was admitted to her local hospital in the south-eastern state of New South Wales after suffering symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, a dry cough and night sweats for three weeks.

She was initially treated but some of her symptoms persisted. Last year she was hospitalized again after suffering from forgetfulness and worsening depression for three months. Scans showed changes in her brain.

Senanayake said the brain biopsy would likely reveal a cancer or an abscess.

“This patient was being treated… for what we ultimately thought was a mysterious illness.” [an] “I had an immunological disorder because we couldn't find a parasite before, and then out of nowhere this big lump appeared in the front part of her brain,” Senanayake said.

A brain scan shows a white area at the front of the brain.
A magnetic resonance image of the patient's brain shows a lesion in the right frontal lobe where the worm was located. (Emerging infectious diseases)

“Suddenly, with [Bandi's] Tweezers, she's picking up this wriggling thing. “You and everyone in the operating room were absolutely stunned,” Senanayake added.

The eggs of the worms are often passed in the feces of snakes.

Small mammals then eat the feces and the life cycle continues while other snakes eat the mammals. The female lives near a carpet python habitat and often goes there to collect and cook spinach-like vegetation called warrigal greens.

Though she hasn't had direct contact with snakes, scientists believe she may have consumed the eggs from vegetation or through her contaminated hands.

After the worm was removed, the patient was given other medications to remove any other potential larvae that might be growing in her other organs.

A pink worm on a blue background.
The larval form of Ophidascaris robertsi, an Australian roundworm, was not previously known to be a human parasite. They are commonly found in carpet pythons. (Emerging infectious diseases)

Six months after the surgery, the researchers say the woman's mental health symptoms persisted but improved.

In an interview with Reuters, Senanayake says they continue to monitor the woman's condition and are in touch with her.

The ophidascaris Species can infect snakes outside of Australia, so the authors surmise that “more human cases could emerge” in other parts of the world.

“Pretty Wild Case”

dr Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto infectious disease doctor, said this was a “pretty wild case.”

He said it was a “unique infection” because the person accidentally ingested python feces that contained the parasite.

“But when it comes to humans getting infections through close contact with non-human animals, obviously that's a big problem and we're certainly seeing more of that,” he told CBC News.

Bogoch said these are specifically zoonotic infections, which can be viral, bacterial or parasitic.

A man in a suit is standing outside.
Isaac Bogoch is an infectious disease physician in Toronto. He says this case is unique and poses no public health risk. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 75 percent of emerging diseases in humans begin in animals.

Some prominent examples of this include the flu and COVID-19, according to Bogoch.

“There's a whole range of parasitic infections that we don't usually see a lot of in Canada,” he said.

Bogoch added that there are some infections that local people can get in Canada and others that people bring into the country from abroad.

“When we talk about zoonotic infections, we have to be very concerned about the transmissible ones,” he said, adding that these are ones that can be transmitted from person to person.

Bogoch said early detection, early response and surveillance are important to spot these infections and prevent them from spreading.

Bogoch said the woman couldn't have transmitted this particular parasitic infection to another person, so there's nothing to worry about.

“This is a frightening infection, but the world need not worry about an outbreak of this infection,” he said.

“It's certainly an impressive case and it's not every day that a neurosurgical team pulls a live worm from a person's brain, but we shouldn't pretend for a second that there's a major public health risk.” ”

According to Bogoch, to avoid zoonotic infection, humans should not accidentally or intentionally consume animal feces because it could transmit diseases that way.

For people who work with animals or have a pet, Bogoch recommended hand washing. He also said people who eat meat like pork or beef should make sure it's well cooked.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button