Canberra hospital neurosurgeon Dr Hari Priya Bandi has an 8 cm long parasitic roundworm was extracted from a patient. The case was documented in the September issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The patient, a 64-year-old female from southeastern New South Wales, was first admitted to the local hospital in late January 2021 after suffering three weeks of abdominal pain, dysentery, constant dry cough, fever and night sweats. In 2022 her symptoms had worsened by carrying them depression and memory loss, so much so as to require hospitalization in Canberra hospital. An MRI scan of the brain revealed abnormalities that required surgery.
“But the neurosurgeon certainly didn’t come in expecting to find a wriggling worm,” said Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease doctor at Canberra hospital. “Neurosurgeons regularly deal with infections of the brain, but this was a first-of-its-kind discovery; no one expected to find something like this,” Senanayake continued. The surprising discovery prompted a hospital team to meet quickly to find out what type of round worm it was and, above all, to decide on further treatment that the patient might require. “We looked in textbooks for all the different types of roundworms that could cause invasions and neurological disease,” Senanayake said. However, the search was fruitless and they sought help from outside experts. “Canberra is a small place, so we sent the worm, which was still alive, straight to the lab of a CSIRO scientist who has a lot of experience with parasites. The results revealed that the species of the worm was Ophidascaris robertsi,” Senanayake said. Ophidascaris robertsi is a round worm usually found in pythons. The Canberra hospital patient represents the first case in the world of discovery of the parasite in humans. The woman resides near a lake area inhabited by carpet pythons.
“Despite direct contact with snakes, the patient often collected native herbs, including Warrigal greens, around the lake to cook,” said Senanayake. Doctors and scientists involved in her case speculate that a python may have spread the parasite through her feces in the grass. They believe that the patient was probably infected with the parasite directly by touching the native grass or after eating the vegetables. “The patient is now recovering well and is still being monitored regularly,” Senanayake said. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. “The world’s first case highlighted the danger of diseases and infections transmitted from animals to humans, especially as animals begin to live more closely together and habitats overlap more,” Senanayake said. «In the last thirty years there have been about thirty new infections in the world-she continued she-she. Of the globally emerging infections, around 75% are zoonotic, meaning animal-to-human transmission, including coronaviruses, has occurred. This Ophidascaris infection is not transmitted between people, so the case will not cause a pandemic like Covid-19 or Ebola. However – specified Senanayake – the snake and the parasite are present in other parts of the world, so it is likely that in the coming years other cases will be recognized in other countries. “Some cases of zoonosis may never be diagnosed if rare and doctors don’t know what to look for – warned Peter Collignon, an infectious disease doctor and not involved in the patient’s case -. Sometimes people die without the cause ever being found. It pays to be careful when meeting animals and the environment, washing food thoroughly, cooking it properly and wearing protective gear such as long sleeves so you don’t get bitten,” Collignon warned.