At Canberra Hospital, a surprising event led to Dr. Sanjaya Senanayake, a specialist in infectious diseases, being presented with an unusual case by Dr. Hari Priya Bandi, a neurosurgeon. A 64-year-old woman from the southeast of New South Wales was hospitalized in 2021 with a variety of puzzling symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, a cough, fever, and night sweats. She finally needed brain surgery due to anomalies seen in an MRI scan as her condition deteriorated over time, along with forgetfulness and sadness.
Dr. Bandi shocked the medical staff when, during surgery, he found a live, wiggling parasitic roundworm in the patient's brain that was 8 cm long. Collaborating with other experts at the hospital, including Dr. Senanayake, they embarked on a quest to identify the parasite and determine the appropriate course of action for the patient.
The medical team's initial research efforts proved fruitless, leading them to seek assistance from external experts. They sent the live worm to a CSIRO scientist experienced in dealing with parasites, who identified it as Ophidascaris robertsi—a roundworm typically found in pythons. This marked the world's first documented case of this parasite being discovered in humans.
The patient lived near a lake area populated by carpet pythons, and although she had no direct contact with snakes, she often collected native grasses from around the lake for cooking. The doctors and scientists hypothesized that the patient might have contracted the parasite through contact with grass contaminated by python feces. It was believed that the patient could have transferred the parasite's eggs to food, and kitchen utensils, or even ingested them while consuming the native greens.
Treating the patient posed unique challenges since no previous cases of this parasite in humans had been documented. The medical team had to carefully consider potential complications that might arise as the larvae died off during treatment, as inflammation caused by dying larvae could harm organs like the brain. After thorough treatment and care, the patient showed steady recovery and continues to be closely monitored.
This extraordinary case underscores the importance of understanding zoonotic diseases—those that pass from animals to humans. While this particular roundworm infection is not transmissible between people and won't cause a pandemic like COVID-19 or Ebola, it highlights the broader issue of emerging infectious diseases originating from animals. Dr. Senanayake emphasized that approximately 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases in humans have originated from animals. This case serves as a reminder of the potential risks associated with human-animal interactions and the importance of proper precautions to prevent the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.
(Input from various media sources)
(Rehash/Dr. Nithin GN)