Recently, an Australian case has been brought to attention where a woman was found with a 3-inch long parasitic roundworm which was surgically removed from her skull. The 64-year-old woman was sent to the hospital after experiencing symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhea, followed by consistent dry cough, fever, and night sweats. As this is the first case of brain worms to involve the brain of any mammalian species, this has raised concerns about the parasite here in California. According to the Australian National University and the Canberra Hospital, Ophidascaris Robertsi is a roundworm found in pythons. Researchers say that the woman lived in a lake area in New South Wales where she was likely to catch the roundworm by eating the native Warrigal greens, rather than by direct contact with the reptiles.
Adler Dillman is a Parasitologist as well as the Nematologist Chair at the University of California, Riverside. He runs down the progression of the parasite, “In this case, the woman was exposed to the parasite eggs which are intended to develop in an intermediate host like a rat or a mouse or some other small mammal that would be eaten by another snake. The intermediate host, the mouse or the rat, will eat eggs in the feces, and then they will get infected within the larval stages or juvenile stages of the parasite. Then when a snake eats that mouse or rat, the snake gets infected by those juvenile parasites that will then develop to adulthood in that snake’s intestine.”
Professor Dillman states that when this “woman inadvertently was exposed to these eggs, we would not expect her to be infected at all because the species Ophidascaris Robertsi is a parasite of snakes.” The juvenile stages of the parasite “would migrate out of her intestine into her tissue and develop into a third stage juvenile for most nematode parasites.”
Professor Dillman believes that this unique case happened because the woman had preexisting conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and pneumonia which she was recovering from. Due to the fact that she was already immunosuppressed, she was more susceptible to being infected by this parasite.
There is no need to worry about the Ophidascaris Robertsi infection in California explains Professor Dillman. He expands on this by stating that Malaria is expanding its geographical reach, making it into something to keep into consideration, due to the fact that it is thriving in regions it was previously uncommon.
Additionally, Dilman brings attention to how we can prevent future tapeworms and nematode parasite infections “by washing your hands after you go to the restroom [and] before you eat.” He emphasizes on choosing restaurants where you are confident they prioritize cleanliness and prevent cross-contamination. He also addresses the importance of not eating undercooked foods including fish, since you can get other types of parasitic worms.
“I would be careful of any place that has an all you can eat sushi. You want to make sure it’s high quality and that you’re less likely to get some kind of parasitic infection.” Dillman said.