CNN – When a 64-year-old Australian woman was sent to hospital for brain surgery, neurosurgeon Dr. Hari Priya Bandi was not expecting to pull out a live 8-centimeter (3-inch) long parasitic roundworm that wriggled between her forceps.
Bandi told CNN of the world’s first discovery of a live worm inside a human brain:
“I’ve only come across worms using my not-so-good gardening skills … I find them terrifying and this is not something I deal with at all.”
The finding unleashed a mad scramble to find out what exactly the parasite was, Canberra Hospital infectious disease expert Sanjaya Senanayake told CNN.
One colleague in the hospital lab was able to reach an animal parasitology expert at a governmental scientific research agency just 20 minutes away – and found their unexpected answer.
“We were able to send the live wiggling worm to him, and he was able to look at it and immediately identify it,” Senanayake said.
“The parasite is highly invasive and it is suspected that its larvae, or juveniles, were present in other organs in the woman’s body, including the lungs and liver.”
Molecular tests confirmed it was Ophidascaris robertsi, a roundworm usually found in pythons, according to a press release from the Australian National University and the Canberra Hospital.
Senanayake, who is also a professor at Australian National University, said:
“To our knowledge, this is also the first case to involve the brain of any mammalian species, human or otherwise.”
Researchers say the patient lived near a lake area inhabited by carpet pythons in southeastern New South Wales.
Although she did not have direct contact with the reptiles, it’s likely she caught the roundworm after foraging Warrigal greens, a native leafy vegetable, which she cooked and ate.
The doctors and scientists involved in her case theorized that a carpet python might have spread the parasite via its feces into the greens, which the patient then touched and cross-contaminated with food …