The Current

Scientists thrilled as woman finds 14 worms in her eye

Creepy worms don't often prompt enthusiasm, but scientists are fascinated by a rare and unusual case — of a woman having worms that are normally found in cattle.
Fourteen tiny worms were removed from the left eye of 26-year-old Abby Beckley. Scientists reported the case, Feb. 12, 2018. (CDC/Handout via Reuters)

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A story of a woman finding a worm in her eye might sound gross to most people — if not downright repelling — but scientists are fascinated by the discovery.

Back in 2016, Abby Beckley had an eye infestation of tiny worms that were previously only seen in cattle. The Oregon woman became a medical first as scientists had never seen a human case with this species.

"As parasitologists, we really got very excited to see something like this," said Richard Bradbury with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who wrote a paper about Beckley's case after researching the samples. 

He tells The Current's guest host Laura Lynch that prior to Beckley's case, it was thought there were only two species that infected humans. 

"We had to go down this rabbit hole of detective work to work out what this thing was because...  all the books on medical parasitology didn't mention this, didn't have ways to identify this."

What is a parasite?

A parasite is any sort of animal that lives on another animal, or within another animal, and feeds off it to gain its nutrition.

Bradbury explained while this case is rare and unusual since there aren't many parasites that infect the eye, this species of worm is not dangerous.

"For a human, it's not actually necessarily going to be particularly harmful in the long term. You will get bad conjunctivitis which is what is pinkeye, as we commonly call it, and then once you've pulled all the worms... you'll be perfectly fine afterward."

Cringing yet? Bradbury is aware of how disgusting this all sounds. 

"This is one of the reasons I like parasitology, it's both intriguing and repulsive at the same time."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page including hearing from Abby Beckley with her experience; and Dan Riskin, author of Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Rosa Kim and Julie Crysler.


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