Doctors in Australia have successfully removed an eight-centimetre parasite from a woman’s brain. This marks the first time that a live roundworm of the species Ophidascaris robertsi has been discovered in a human being.

The 64-year-old woman, hailing from southeast New South Wales, was admitted to a local hospital in 2021 after experiencing several troubling symptoms. What started as three weeks of diarrhoea and abdominal pain gradually escalated to a constant dry cough, fever, and night sweats. As her health deteriorated, the woman also suffered from depression and memory loss, prompting further investigation.

Image: Emerging Infectious Diseases

It was during an MRI scan conducted at Canberra Hospital in 2022 that a neurosurgeon identified an abnormality in the right frontal lobe of the patient’s brain. Recognising the need for immediate action, doctors performed brain surgery and made a shocking discovery – an 8cm Ophidascaris robertsi roundworm.

While these roundworms are commonly found in carpet pythons, residing in the animals’ oesophagus and stomach before being expelled in the faeces, their presence in a human body was unprecedented. Scientists speculate that the woman became infected when she collected and ate a type of native grass known as Warrigal greens, which had most likely been contaminated by the parasite shed by a python.

“This is the first-ever human case of Ophidascaris to be described in the world,” said Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases expert and co-author of the study. “To our knowledge, this is also the first case to involve the brain of any mammalian species, human or otherwise.”


It is worth noting that this particular Ophidascaris infection is not transmissible between humans. Therefore, it does not pose a threat in terms of causing a pandemic similar to SARS, COVID-19, or Ebola. However, given the global presence of snakes and the parasite, it is likely that similar cases will be reported in the coming years from other countries.

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