In A First, Live Parasitic Worm Found In Australian Woman's Brain

Mehrab Hossain, an Australian expert in parasitology, said he suspects she became an "accidental host" after using the foraged plants - contaminated by python faeces and parasite eggs - for cooking

Priya Prakash
Aug 29, 2023 11:22 IST
Live Parasitic Worm Found In Australian Woman's Brain In World-First Discovery

Image Credit: CDC.GOV

Australian doctors have made a groundbreaking discovery involving a live parasitic roundworm embedded in a woman's brain, measuring a substantial 8 centimetres.

The patient, a 64-year-old woman residing in the southeastern part of New South Wales, was initially admitted to her local hospital in late January 2021. She had been grappling with abdominal pain and persistent diarrhoea for a three-week period, followed by an ongoing dry cough, fever, and night sweats.

By the time 2022 arrived, her medical condition had taken a concerning turn. Along with her physical symptoms, she began to exhibit signs of forgetfulness and depression. This led to her referral to a hospital in Canberra. A comprehensive MRI scan of her brain was conducted, which brought to light certain abnormalities that necessitated surgical intervention.

Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician at a hospital in Canberra, mentioned that the neurosurgeon who attended to the case didn't anticipate discovering a live, moving worm. 


Dr. Senanayake emphasised that while neurosurgeons are accustomed to addressing brain infections, encountering such a situation was an exceptionally rare occurrence, not anticipated by anyone involved.

Live Parasitic Worm Found In Australian Woman's Brain

The discovered larva, identified as a third-stage larva from the Ophidascaris robertsi nematode species, holds its place as an extraordinary incident within the realm of medical history. This exceptional case has been meticulously documented in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Ordinarily, this type of parasitic roundworm resides within the gastrointestinal systems of carpet pythons indigenous to the Australian state of New South Wales.


In response to the event, the live worm was promptly dispatched to the laboratory of a CSIRO scientist, known for their expertise in dealing with parasites. The scientist's laboratory received the still-living worm for further examination and study, an initiative made possible by the close-knit nature of the Canberra medical community.

The expert's reaction was immediate as he observed the worm, exclaiming, "Oh my goodness, this is Ophidascaris robertsi."

The researchers involved in this case have formulated a hypothesis regarding the source of the parasite. They suggest that a python might have released the parasite through its faeces onto the grass. The working theory is that the patient came into contact with the contaminated grass, leading to the transmission of the parasite's eggs. These eggs could have been inadvertently transferred to food, kitchen utensils, or even ingested while consuming leafy greens.

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