Worms do the darndest things

The Sydney Morning Herald has an odd story about a woman with a worm in her eye .

Doctors at a clinic in Kragujevac, central Serbia, have removed an 11 centimetre-long intestinal worm from a woman’s eye socket.

According to preliminary results, the worm taken from the 37-year-old patient’s eye belongs to the Ascaris family, a common intestinal parasite in pigs that is also found in humans.

No similar case has ever been recorded in Serbia and probably in Europe, Radomir Stojicevic, a doctor at the Kragujevac clinic, told the Tanjug news agency.

The parasite had probably travelled through the patient’s blood from the digestive tract into the eye socket, doctors at the clinic believe.

A few years ago the an article in the Southern Medical Journal carried a report about a man who showed up at a hospital emergency department after seeing a 15 centimeter worm "exit his urethra while urinating." The authors identified the worm as Ascaris Lumbricoides, an intestinal roundworm. One of the journal’s readers was sceptical and thought that the worm in the photograph looked more like an earthworm. "Patients do funny things and often bring in strange objects that were supposedly voided, passed in feces, or recovered from lesions" said Dr Lawrence Ash. And since nobody but the patient claimed to have seen the worm emerge, how could they be sure where it came from?

Readers might also be sceptical about an ascaris worm being pulled from a woman’s eye-socket. Could it happen, and if so, how? Here’s some background.

The human roundworm has a rather complicated lifecycle. Adult worms normally live in the gut. Females lay eggs which are passed out in the feces. These eggs can then be swallowed — particularly if people are doing things like eating without washing their hands and fertilizing their crops with human waste. The eggs hatch in the small intestine and the larvae burrow through the gut wall and enter the blood stream where they eventually end up in the lungs. After this the young worms are coughed up and swallowed. They then return to the intestine where they eat, grow and go about their normal wormy business.

Ascaris worms sometimes wander about, ending up in places like the bile ducts or liver where they can cause some nasty problems. And there are many anecdotal reports of worms emerging from their hosts unexpectedly. In an article for the American Family Physician Gregory Juckett reports that "Fever, illness or even spicy foods may compel Ascaris to exit the body abruptly through the mouth, nose or rectum." Other sources tell of worms emerging from people’s tear ducts and ears.

For pictures, try here.

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James Farrell
James Farrell
15 years ago

There was a whole series about parasites on the ABC last year. One ‘victim’ featured was a scientist who deliberately cultivateld a tapeworm or some such thing in his intestines. He expelled it in the final epissode and arranged it on his lawn. Around three metres long, as I recall. The other startling thing I learned – everyone but me already knew this, I suppose – was that, if you urinate into the Amazon or Congo or whatever, the infants of some of these worms can swim up the stream like salmon and get into your digestive organs that way. How on earth could evolution produce an ability like that? That was when I became a creationist – creation by the Devil, that is.

Peter Hughes
Peter Hughes
15 years ago

There are photographs of Ascaris worm being extracted from a person’s eye on the Urban Legends photo quiz site – True or False :
Answer : True !!