CANBERRA, Australia –
A neurosurgeon studying a woman's mysterious symptoms at an Australian hospital says she ripped a wriggling worm out of the patient's brain.
Surgeon 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 parasite, which measured 8 centimeters or 3 inches, 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 creature was the larva of an Australian roundworm called Ophidascaris robertsi, previously unknown as a human parasite. The worms are commonly found in carpet pythons.
Bandi and Canberra infectious diseases doctor Sanjaya Senanayake are authors of an article about the extraordinary medical case that was published in the latest issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Senanayake 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,'” said Senanayake.
The woman had been hospitalized after suffering from forgetfulness and worsening depression for over three months. Scans showed changes in her brain.
A year earlier, she had been admitted to her local hospital in southeastern New South Wales with symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, a dry cough and night sweats.
Senanayake said the brain biopsy would likely reveal a cancer or an abscess.
“This patient was being treated … for a mysterious disease that we thought was ultimately an immunological disease because we couldn't find a parasite before, and then out of nowhere this big lump appeared in the front part of her brain.” ‘ said Senanayake.
“All of a sudden she picks up this squirming thing with her (Bandis) tweezers. She and everyone in the operating room were absolutely stunned,” added Senanayake.
Bandi said her patient regained consciousness after the worm was removed with no ill effects.
“She was so grateful to have an answer to what had been troubling her for so long,” Bandi told WIN News.
Six months after the worm was removed, the patient's neuropsychiatric symptoms improved but persisted, the journal article said. She had returned home but is still under medical observation. Details of her current condition have not been released.
The worms' eggs are often shed with snake feces, which contaminates the grass eaten by small mammals. The life cycle continues while other snakes eat the mammals.
The female lives near a carpet python habitat and forages for native vegetation called warrigal greens to cook with.
Though she hasn't had direct contact with snakes, scientists suspect she may have consumed the eggs from vegetation or via her contaminated hands.