1st case of eye worms in hu­mans re­ported

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - News - By Lena H. Sun

Abby Beck­ley thought her left eye was ir­ri­tated be­cause of a stray eye­lash. She rubbed it, flushed it with water, but when the dis­com­fort re­mained, she peered into the mir­ror. She thought she saw a piece of clear fuzz. She pinched it with her fin­gers and pulled it out.

It was a worm. “It was alive and squig­gling around,” she re­called.

Ms. Beck­ley, — the fo­cus of what is be­ing called the first known hu­man case of a par­a­sitic in­fec­tion spread by flies — was 26 and a deck­hand on a com­mer­cial fish­ing boat in Alaska. At an ur­gent care clinic, the clin­i­cians did not know what to tell her, but they pulled out twom­ore worms.

Luck­ily, her boyfriend’s par­ents, both doc­tors, got her an ap­point­ment with an in­fec­tious dis­ease spe­cial­ist in Port­land, Ore.

In the end, it was a team of sci­en­tists at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion that solved Ms. Beck­ley’s case, which took place in Au­gust 2016. They fig­ured out she had been in­fected by a species of eye worm that had never be­fore been found in a hu­man. By the time her or­deal was over, 14 worms had been pulled from her eye.

Med­i­cal par­a­sitol­o­gist Richard Brad­bury iden­ti­fied the species by search­ing the med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture and even­tu­ally find­ing an ob­scure jour­nal writ­ten in Ger­man that was pub­lished in 1928. The case study about Ms. Beck­ley’s or­deal was pub­lished Mon­day in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Trop­i­cal Medicine and Hy­giene.

“We never ex­pected to see this par­tic­u­lar species in a hu­man,” Dr. Brad­bury said. Un­til now, this type of worm, The­lazia gu­losa, had only been found in cat­tle in the north­ern United States and south­ern Canada.

Eye worms in­fect a va­ri­ety of an­i­mals, but hu­man in­fec­tions are rare. The worms are trans­mit­ted to eyes by a type of fly known as “face flies.” The flies in­gest the worm lar­vae, then land on an an­i­mal’s eyes, where the flies feed on tears and other se­cre­tions. Dur­ing this process, the flies de­posit the worm lar­vae into the eye, where they grow into adult worms.

In the weeks be­fore her in­fec­tion, she had been walk­ing through cat­tle fields in her na­tive south­ern Ore­gon and was of­ten around cows and horses. It is pos­si­ble, she said, a fly landed on her eye and in­fected her.

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