According to a report in the UK Guardian, an Australian woman suffering from multiple symptoms since 2021 was found to have a parasite typically found in pythons living in her brain.
The 64-year-old New South Wales patient was initially hospitalized in January 2021, suffering from abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, coughing, and night sweats. By 2022, she began experiencing depression and memory loss, prompting doctors to refer her to Canberra Hospital where an MRI of her brain revealed abnormalities.
When neurosurgeon Hari Priya Bandi operated on the patient, she found a parasitic roundworm “alive and wriggling,” according to infectious diseases doctor Sanjaya Senanayake.
After consulting an expert, the doctors learned that the worm was Ophidascaris robertsi, a parasite found in pythons. The New South Wales patient is the first known case of Ophidascaris robertsi infecting a human.
According to Dr. Senanayake, the woman lives near a lake known to be inhabited by carpet pythons. And while she had no direct contact with a python, the woman often collected native grasses near the lake which she used in cooking.
The doctors believe that the woman may have contracted the parasite’s eggs by coming in contact with the feces of a python from the native grass she collected. The woman could have ingested the eggs from eating the grasses.
Dr. Senanayake said this particular case highlights the danger of infections or diseases passing from animals to humans, particularly among people living in close contact with animals. He said in the last thirty years, there have been around 30 new infections worldwide, 75 percent of which are zoonotic.
Senanayake said while the Ophidascaris robertsi parasite cannot be passed from human to human, the pythons are found in other regions of the world and additional cases in other countries are likely to happen.
While the Australian case is the first known instance of human infection by Ophidascaris robertsi, that isn’t to say others haven’t already been infected.
According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Collignon, cases of zoonotic diseases are rare and doctors don’t necessarily know what to look for, meaning some patients suffering from a zoonotic infection may go undiagnosed.