Scientists have discovered a terrifying-sounding new worm in a human eye

Saul Bowman
February 15, 2018

"But their presence in upstate NY suggests this geographic area is potentially suitable for spreading the eye worms that cause human infections in Europe and Asia". It was the first time this particular parasite had ever been found in humans, writes Engelaupt. An ophthalmologist found three more and over the course of a 20-day stay at the CDC, where the parasite was identified as a member of the Thelazia family, 14 more worms were extracted from her eye. "Now, we have to add Thelazia gulosa, a third one to the list", he added. It never find before in humans.

The worms - less than half an inch long - are spread by "face flies" that feed on an eyeball's moisture. Beckley had been out horseback riding and fishing in Gold Beach, Oregon, which is a cattle-farming region.

"Previously, it was thought that there were only two different species of these eye worms that infected humans worldwide", said Richard Bradbury, who led one of the studies.

The Portland Tribune reports in the span of a few weeks, Beckley pulled 14 of the tiny worms from her left eye. "I am thinking to myself, 'Worms, please show up, ' because sometimes they would go behind my eye and under the eyelid, and you couldn't see or feel them anymore". It was actually a translucent worm as thin as a thread, measuring nearly an inch long.

Dr. Erin Bonura, an assistant professor of medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University, told Fox 12 that she asked her to keep pulling out the worms because if doctors prescribed medication, the worms would die in the eye and wouldn't be removed.

It's seen in cattle in the USA and spread by flies.


Expert Richard Bradbury said: "Cases of eye worm parasitic infections are rare in the United States of America, and this case turned out to be a species of the Thelazia that had never been reported in humans". That larvae then need to hop back on board a face fly to complete its complicated life cycle. She made medical history because of bad luck.

According to the doctor who handled Beckley's case, the woman was diagnosed with Thelazia gulosa infestation, a type of worm which usually nestles inside the eyelids of cattle and household pets such as cats and dogs.

"I finally couldn't take it any [more]", she says. But occasionally, the worms migrate across the surface of the eye. Doctors feared that prescribing medication to kill the worms would actually prevent them from being effectively removed, leaving the dead parasites floating in the eye cavity permanently. In severe cases, worms can scar the cornea and even cause blindness.

Meanwhile, Bonura was frantically working with the CDC and Northwest Pathology to identify these odd worms, samples of which had been sent to Bradbury's CDC lab in Atlanta.

Similar human infection with other species have been reported in parts of Asia, Russia, Italy and France.

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