A group of neurosurgeons removed a live roundworm, three inches long, from the brain of an Australian woman, the first such case in humans, academic sources reported on Tuesday.
The parasite, identified as Ophidascaris robertsi, is common in diamondback pythons, a species endemic to Australia.
“This is the first documented human case of Ophidascaris,” said Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease expert at the Australian National University and Canberra Hospital, who even claims it may be the first known case of brain infection with this parasite in every species of mammal.
The 64-year-old woman was admitted to a Canberra hospital in January 2021 after suffering three weeks of abdominal pain and diarrhea, followed by a fever, cough, night sweats, and shortness of breath, with no microscopic larvae found on breath tests or biopsies.
“In retrospect, these symptoms were probably due to the migration of the roundworm larvae from the intestine to other organs such as the liver and lungs. At the time, people were trying to identify the microscopic larvae, which had never been identified before.” “It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” says Karina Kennedy, Director of Clinical Microbiology at Canberra Hospital.
In 2022, the patient underwent an MRI after suffering from memory problems and depression. Imaging of the patient’s brain revealed that the woman had an atypical lesion in the right frontal lobe.
A neurosurgeon at Canberra Hospital examined the anomaly and found the unexpected three-inch roundworm.
The parasite was removed alive and wriggling from the patient during brain surgery, for which no date is given, and the woman is currently being evaluated by the team of brain and infectious disease specialists.
Ophidascaris robertsi normally lives in the esophagus and stomach of Diamond Pythons (Morelia slpitoa), a snake up to four meters long that sheds the parasite in its feces.
Scientists believe the Australian touched or picked up native grass where the snake would have excreted the parasite, which it collected near its home in southeast Australia and used in cooking.
Experts point out that these cases of parasitic infection “are not transmitted between humans” and that the patient is only considered an incidental host, noting the importance of washing collected food, especially if it is in a wild environment.