The worm, which is commonly found in carpet snakes, was discovered after the 64-year-old man complained of symptoms including forgetfulness.
A live parasitic worm was found inside the brain of a 64-year-old Australian woman, the first case of infection in humans.
The discovery was made by doctors and researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) and Canberra Hospital after they found a live worm 8 cm (3.15 in) long in the woman.
The roundworm, Ophidascaris robertsi – whose usual host is a carpet snake – was pulled from a patient after brain surgery – alive and wriggling. It is also suspected that the worm larvae infected other organs in the woman’s body, including her lungs and liver.
“This is the first ever human case of ovidascaris to be described in the world,” Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease expert at the Australian National University and Canberra Hospital, said in a statement.
“To our knowledge, this is also the first case involving the brain of any mammalian species, human or otherwise.
“Roundworm larvae are usually found in small mammals and marsupials, which the snake eats, allowing the life cycle to complete itself in the snake.”
The researchers who published their findings in Emerging infectious diseases The magazine said the woman may have contracted the infection from waregal greens, a type of local herb, which she collected near her home and then cooked.
The weeds are home to snake snakes that have been eliminating the parasite’s eggs through their feces.
Roundworms, Ophidascaris robertsi, are common in carpet snakes and live in the snake’s esophagus and stomach.
The roundworms, described by the Australian National University as “incredibly resilient”, can thrive in a wide range of environments.
Researchers say the woman, from the southeastern state of New South Wales, may have contracted the infection from touching or after eating the local grass.
Carina Kennedy, director of clinical microbiology at Canberra Hospital and assistant professor at the Australian National University College of Medicine, said the woman’s symptoms first appeared in January 2021, and with worsening over three weeks, she was admitted to hospital.
“At first she developed abdominal pain and diarrhoea, followed by fever, cough and shortness of breath. Later on, these symptoms were likely due to migration of roundworm larvae from the intestines to other organs, such as the liver and lungs. Respiratory samples and lung biopsy were performed. However No parasites were identified in these samples.
“At the time, trying to identify microscopic larvae, which had not previously been identified as causing human infection, was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
By 2022, the woman was suffering from forgetfulness and depression, which prompted her to have an MRI scan, which showed a lesion in her brain.
When a hospital neurosurgeon investigates, they are shocked to discover the worm, whose identity is later confirmed by parasitologists.
Senanayake said the case underscores the increased risk of disease transmission from animals to humans.
“There have been about 30 new infections in the world in the last 30 years. Among the emerging infections globally, about 75% are animal diseases, which means that there has been a transmission from the animal world to the human world. This includes coronaviruses.” .
“Ophidacaris is not transmissible between people, so it will not cause a pandemic like SARS, Covid-19 or Ebola. However, the snake and the parasite are present in other parts of the world, so it is likely that other cases will be identified in the coming years in other countries.” .
The woman, who did not fully recover from a bout of pneumonia before she was infected with the worm, continues to be monitored by specialists.