In Australia, a group of doctors discovered something unusual and disturbing after brain surgery. The story began with an elderly woman who was admitted to a hospital in 2021 after suffering from abdominal pain, diarrhea, constant dry cough, night sweats and fever for several weeks. A few months later, the patient’s symptoms progressed to forgetfulness and depression, requiring her to be transferred to a hospital in Canberra. An MRI was performed at the health center, which revealed that there was something strange in the right frontal lobe of the woman’s brain.
Following this discovery, a group of doctors decided to perform brain surgery on the 64-year-old Australian woman. During the operation, the neurosurgeon Dr. Hari Priya Bandi determined that there was a live parasitic worm in the patient’s brain, which he immediately removed. The organism was nearly 8 centimeters long and began to writhe when squeezed with tweezers. Bandi recently reported that he had never experienced such a case and that he was only exposed to worms because of his gardening knowledge. The neurosurgeon commented that she described this experience as frightening.
Canberra Hospital infectious disease expert Sanjaya Senanayake reported that after the live worm was discovered in the old woman’s brain, investigations began immediately to determine what parasite it was. A hospital laboratory worker contacted an animal parasitology expert who worked for a government scientific research agency. The live worm was sent for examination and identification.
After a series of molecular tests, authorities confirmed that it was the Ophidascaris robertsi parasite. This is a type of worm usually found in pythons. According to a statement from the Australian National University and Canberra Hospital, this could be the first case involving the brain of a human or mammal.
“Ophidascaris robertsi” is usually a host for other animals. Snakes known as Australian carpet pythons often carry this parasite. These reptiles usually excrete the parasite’s eggs in their feces, which promotes the spread of these worms in vegetation, which small marsupials and mammals eat. These animals usually fall prey to pythons, so the parasite usually lives in the pythons all the time.
Investigators said the 64-year-old woman lived near an area inhabited by carpet pythons in southeastern New South Wales. Experts believe that while the elderly woman did not have direct contact with these reptiles, it is highly likely that she contracted the parasite after searching for, cooking and eating New Zealand spinach. The group of scientists and researchers working on the case theorized that a carpet python could have spread the parasite through the droppings it left on the vegetables. And that the old woman touched and contaminated her food or other utensils that she handled in her kitchen.
According to Senanayake, the worm accidentally entered the woman’s brain. The infectious disease expert assures that this parasite is highly invasive and that the suspicion remains that its larvae or juvenile offspring are present in other organs of the patient, including the lungs and liver.