Australian doctors find live parasitic worm in woman’s brain

Team Parvasi – Inside

Australian doctors find live parasitic worm in woman’s brain
SYDNEY: A parasitic roundworm typically found in snakes was pulled “alive and wriggling” from a woman’s brain in a stomach-churning medical first, Australian doctors said on Tuesday.

Baffled doctors performed an MRI scan on the 64-year-old Australian woman after she began suffering memory lapses, noticing an “atypical lesion” at the front of her brain.

It was an eight-centimetre (three-inch) roundworm, called Ophidas­caris robertsi, which researchers said was a common parasite in kangaroos and carpet pythons — but not humans.

“This is the first-ever human case of Ophidascaris to be described in the world,” said infectious disease expert Sanjaya Senanayake.

“To our knowledge, this is also the first case to involve the brain of any mammalian species, human or otherwise.”

Patient, who hails from New South Wales, is said to be recovering well after the surgery

The woman, who had been treated for but not fully recovered from pneumonia, was admitted to a hospital in January 2021 after three weeks of abdominal pain and diarrhoea, which progressed to a dry cough and night sweats, according to findings published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

She was re-admitted to a hospital three weeks later when her condition did not improve, and underwent various treatments until brain scans revealed a lesion and an open biopsy was performed in June 2022.

“It was definitely not what we were expecting. Everyone was shocked,” BBC reported, while quoting the operating surgeon Dr Hari Priya Bandi.

“Everyone was shocked. And the worm that we found was happily moving, quite vigorously, outside the brain,” she said.

“When you operate on someone’s brain and you take a biopsy of something, you never expect to encounter something living,” Senanayake said.

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“We noted a stringlike structure within the lesion, which we removed; it was a live and motile helminth,” the findings said.

Dr Bandi said she had only begun to touch the brain part that had shown up strangely in the scans when she felt it.

The parasite was then identified through DNA testing.

The red parasite could have been alive in her brain for up to two months, doctors said.

The woman, who lived near a lake area in south-eastern New South Wales state, is recovering well, BBC reported.

Scientists say the woman most likely caught the roundworm after collecting a type of native grass, Warrigal greens, beside a lake near where she lived.

The area is also inhabited by carpet pythons.

“It is never easy or desirable to be the first patient in the world for anything,” Senanayake said.

“I can’t state enough our admiration for this woman, who has shown patience and courage through this process.”

Senanayake said Ophidascaris roundworms were known to infect animals in other parts of the world, and it was “likely that other cases will be recognised in coming years”.

Dr Senanayake told BBC the case showed “as human population burgeons, we move closer and encroach on animal habitats.”

“This is an issue we see again and again, whether it’s Nipah virus that’s gone from wild bats to domestic pigs and then into people, whether it’s a coronavirus like Sars or Mers that has jumped from bats into possibly a secondary animal and then into humans.”


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