The worm removed from the woman’s brain was identified as Ophidascaris robertsi, which typically lives in the esophagus and stomach of diamondback pythons. They believe the woman touched or swallowed grass contaminated with the snake’s feces.
The average worm in an Australian woman’s brain is eight centimeters long. It’s the first time such a parasite has been recovered from a mammal, as experts say it’s common only in diamondback pythons.
The intestinal worm identified as Ophidascaris was extracted after two years of uncertainty on the part of the patient. Thanks to an MRI, the neurosurgeon was able to identify the cause of the patient’s memory problems and depression, among other pain and problems.
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 fever, cough, night sweats, and difficulty breathing, 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 intestines to other organs, such as the liver and lungs.” Back then, there was an attempt to identify the microscopic larvae, which had never before been found to cause human infections, like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” says Karina Kennedy, director of clinical microbiology at Canberra Hospital.
The parasite was taken alive and wriggling from the patient during brain surgery, the date of which is unknown.
The woman is currently being examined by specialists. This parasite normally lives in the diamond python’s digestive system. The diamond python (Morelia slpitoa) is a snake that can grow up to four meters long. Scientists believe the woman touched or ate native grass, where the snake would have deposited its droppings and used them in cooking.
Experts point out that these cases of parasitic infections “are not transmitted between humans” and that the patient is only considered an incidental host. However, they consider the importance of washing collected food, especially when found in a wild environment.