Discovery Shocks Australia’s Foraging Community: Parasitic Worm Found in Woman’s Brain

by Ella

In a shocking revelation, Australia’s community of wild food foragers is reeling after a live parasitic worm was discovered in a woman’s brain. The parasitic infection is believed to have been acquired while she was collecting and consuming greens and grasses from the local bushland.

The 64-year-old woman, hailing from south-eastern New South Wales, underwent a groundbreaking medical procedure last year when surgeons at Canberra Hospital successfully extracted an 8cm-long live parasitic roundworm from her brain. This extraordinary incident marked the first known instance of such a parasite inhabiting a human brain, as these creatures are typically associated with pythons.


The specimen, identified as Ophidascaris robertsi larvae, was extracted alive, leading doctors and scientists to speculate that the worm eggs may have been deposited by a carpet python in the grasses and warrigal greens near a lake where the patient had been foraging. The woman likely became infected when she touched the contaminated vegetation, subsequently transferring the eggs to her food or kitchen utensils, or when she consumed the greens.


News reports detailing this unsettling case swiftly circulated among foraging enthusiasts after breaking on Tuesday, sparking a mix of reactions within the community. While some individuals expressed trepidation and decided to abstain from foraging altogether, the majority indicated their intention to continue the practice despite the “freaky” nature of the incident.


Diego Bonetto, a Sydney-based expert forager and guide, noted the extreme rarity of such an occurrence and emphasized that food poisoning from conventional restaurants posed a more significant risk compared to contracting parasites from wild plant collection. He underscored the importance of adhering to safety precautions, such as thorough washing and cooking of foraged vegetables.


“Foraging enthusiasts should be well-versed in the basics: proper identification, knowledge of the collection site, and meticulous cleaning of the harvested produce before consumption,” Bonetto advised.

Food foraging, the practice of gathering edible and medicinal plants from the natural environment, has a long history and remains popular in certain cultural and community groups.

Sam Pedro, an avid forager, acknowledged the inherent risks associated with the practice, citing previous personal experiences such as contracting giardia from handling contaminated mushrooms and encounters with spiders. Despite these challenges, he expressed his commitment to foraging, reasoning that life is replete with risks.

Sarah, another Sydney forager, characterized the case as “freaky” but remained resolute in her foraging pursuits, emphasizing the intrinsic joys of collecting wild food. She advocated for learning ways to reduce risks and foraging safely.

Gabby Stefanutti, echoing the sentiments of other foragers, stressed the importance of proper preparation and cleaning of all foods, whether sourced from the wild or purchased in stores. She also drew attention to the potential hazards posed by chemicals in commercially produced food.

The patient from New South Wales initially sought medical attention in January 2021, reporting abdominal pain, diarrhea, and subsequent symptoms including a persistent dry cough, fever, and night sweats. By the following year, she experienced cognitive issues and depression. A brain scan revealed abnormalities necessitating surgery, leading to the discovery of the parasitic worm.

Doctors overseeing the patient’s recovery have been investigating whether an underlying medical condition that compromised her immune system may have contributed to the worm infestation.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a significant proportion of new or emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from animals.



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