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Medical Mystery: Parasitic Worm Found in Australian Woman’s Brain Medical Mystery

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In a startling medical discovery, a 64-year-old Australian woman’s ongoing “mystery illness” was traced back to a parasitic worm that had taken up residence in her brain.

Neurosurgeon Hari Priya Bandi, who was conducting a biopsy at Canberra Hospital in June 2022, stumbled upon a 3-inch wriggling worm within the patient’s skull. The finding left the medical team shocked and intrigued.

According to reports from the Canberra Times newspaper, based in Canberra, Australia, Bandi recalled her initial reaction, stating, “I just thought: ‘What is that? It doesn’t make any sense. But it’s alive and moving.'” The discovery was followed by a mix of curiosity and unease as the team watched the parasite continue its animated movements. The worm’s vigorous activity inside a human brain was a baffling revelation.

The parasitic intruder was subsequently identified as the larva of an Australian native roundworm known as Ophidascaris robertsi. This species of worm is typically found in carpet pythons. Previous to this case the roundworm was not recognized as a parasite affecting humans.

Bandi and infectious diseases physician Sanjaya Senanayake collaborated on an article detailing this extraordinary case, which was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The patient had endured a year of perplexing symptoms leading up to the worm’s discovery. Prior to the brain biopsy, the woman had been admitted to a local hospital in southeast New South Wales with a range of issues including abdominal pain, diarrhea, a persistent dry cough, and night sweats.

As her condition worsened, she was eventually taken to Canberra Hospital after experiencing three months of memory loss and deepening depression. Scans of her brain prompted doctors to perform the biopsy in hopes of uncovering a cancerous growth or an abscess not a parasitic creepy crawler wiggling around in her head.

The revelation of a live parasite within the patient’s brain left the surgical team perplexed. According to reports from Fox News and The Associated Press, Senanayake expressed their collective amazement, stating, “This patient had been treated … for what was a mystery illness that we thought ultimately was an immunological condition because we hadn’t been able to find a parasite before and then out of nowhere, this big lump appeared in the frontal part of her brain.”

Following the successful removal of the worm, the patient’s neuropsychiatric symptoms showed improvement, although some persisted. The woman’s gratitude for finally understanding the cause of her ailments was evident.

Six months after the removal procedure, her condition continued to improve, although ongoing monitoring remained a priority due to the novel nature of the infection.

Scientists delved into the potential source of the worm’s presence in the woman’s brain and discovered her proximity to a habitat for carpet pythons. Even though she had no direct contact with these snakes, researchers theorized that she might have ingested the worms’ eggs inadvertently from native vegetation.

This remarkable case not only underscores the intricate connections between human health and the environment but also highlights the ongoing mysteries that the medical field continues to unravel.

Follow Alexander Carter on Twitter @AlexCarterDC for more!

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Healthcare

College to begin offering abortion pill on campus

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Barnard College, a partner campus of Columbia University, will be rolling out a plan in May that involves supplying students with abortion pills, the Columbia Spectator reported. The plan to provide the abortion service in the form of mifepristone abortion pills to students was initially announced in the fall of 2022 after the overturning of Roe. V Wade, according to the Spectator. However, the rollout’s delay has been partially attributed to an August 2023 grant the college received, which allowed Barnard to join a large network of primary care providers that will help steer the college through the procedures.

The Daily Caller News Foundation reports Barnard’s Primary Care Health Service will host student focus groups in upcoming weeks to find out student perspectives about the service and to identify new ways to support students considering abortion. “We wanted to make sure that we’re addressing this from every angle that will be supportive of students,” Sarah Ann Anderson-Burnett, director of Medical Services and Quality Improvement of Barnard, told the Spectator. Anderson-Burnett also said it has expanded the availability of its abortion providers to after-hours and year-round.

Barnard has six medical professionals, including two physicians and four nurse practitioners, who are capable of performing the procedure, Mariana Catallozzi, vice president for Health and Wellness and chief health officer of Barnard, told the Spectator. The school also launched a partnership with AccessNurse, a medical call center that will assist with patient concerns related to abortions.

“The training doesn’t end with the clinicians,” Anderson-Burnett told the Spectator. “Clinicians are trained on the actual provision, but there’s also an overall training that will be provided to key partners and stakeholders across the campus because we want every step, every touchpoint, to be supportive and to be trauma-informed and to be patient-valued and centered but also respect confidentiality and privacy.”

The University of Massachusetts Amherst spent more than $650,000 to stock abortion pills in March 2023 at the request of Democratic Maryland Gov. Maura Healey. Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill in May 2023 forcing college in the state to stock abortion pills on campus.

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