Return of the Eye Worms

At this point, I don’t think anyone really wants to read any more about worms in people’s eyes, but here we are. A Florida man had eye surgery to remove a “brain-eating parasitic worm that was living in his eye.”

The parasitic worm, Taenia solium, swam through the man’s bloodstream from his stomach to his eye, likely caused by under-cooked pork the man ate around Christmas. Months later he started seeing black dots, a sign the worm had moved into his eye. The doctor that treated him is quoted as saying:

“If the parasite dies the inflammation could blind Cordero, if it lays some of its 50000 eggs they could travel to his brain and begin eating it turning it basically into swiss cheese. Thankfully that didn’t happen.”

Is it comforting to know this kind of thing is relatively rare in the United States? According to the CDC, “the number of new cases in the U.S. each year is probably less than 1000.” And “eye infections with pork tapeworms are rare: Only about 20 such cases have been reported worldwide.” Also, properly cooking meat to an internal temperature between 145° F for pork and 165° F for chicken kills the parasite.

Beware the Flu, Part Five

According the most recent CDC update, the total number of pediatric flu deaths stands at 84. Just before that, the CDC confirmed that only 26% of kids who died from the flu received flu shots. Though the flu vaccine this year was found to be only 36% effective for the entire population, it’s effectiveness rose to 59% among children between the ages of six months and eight years. Hearing that the flu vaccine was so generally ineffective this year may have influenced some parents to not get shots for their children. In fact, promoting the nearly 60% effective statistic could have encouraged many more children to be vaccinated. Still, the prevailing headlines all focus on the “only 36%” effective statistic.  And according to TIME,

36% effectiveness may not seem very impressive, but the CDC emphasizes in the report that even small increases in immunity can have a large impact on public health. CDC data has shown that even in 2014-2015, a year when vaccine effectiveness didn’t even hit 20%, immunizations prevented as many as 144,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths. Plus, people who get the shot, but who still end up getting sick, tend to have less severe illnesses than unvaccinated people.

It’s not clear if flu season has hits its peak yet, and could continue through March. This seems likely to me, based entirely on the number of people I see not washing their hands after using the bathroom.


Beware the Flu
Beware the Flu, Part Two
Beware the Flu, Part Three
Beware the Flu, Part Four

“Really Exciting” Eye Worm Discovery

I nearly vomited at least twice reading about a woman, Abby Beckley, who discovered worms in her eyes and pulled them out one by one. Beckley is from Oregon and spends time around cattle and horses. She first noticed the worms crawling across her eye when she was working on a fishing boat in Alaska, and thought they might be worms from salmon. Initially, doctors were skeptical about Beckley’s eye worm claims and couldn’t see them.

“I felt one squiggle across my eye, and I told the doctors, ‘You need to look right now!’ ” Beckley said. “I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they saw it move across my eye.”

Beckley repeatedly visited the doctors in an attempt to flush the worms out of her eyes, but they kept reappearing, and she continued to remove them herself, pulling them one at a time from her eye.

The worst part, she says, was wondering what the worms might do to her body, “so close to my brain and eyes.”

Samples were sent off to the CDC who finally identified the worm species as Thelazia gulosa. They are unique to cattle and have never been found in a human eye before, as far as we know. A CDC worker described the discovery as “really exciting” saying “that it is a new species that has never infected people before. It’s a cattle worm that somehow jumped into a human.” Yes, really exciting indeed.

The treatment, doctors told Beckley, was to continue removing any worms she found herself:

Twenty days after pulling the first worm from her eye, Beckley discovered the final wiggling worm. Once that was out, her ordeal was over. She knows because she’s not found another since. Her vision remains good, with no other complications.

All in all, a great ending to a truly nauseating story.

Ever Woken up with a Different Accent?

Ever gone to bed and woken up speaking with a different accent? If so, you may have Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). Yes, this is a real thing! Mostly recently, The Washington Post reports that an Arizona woman, Michelle Myers, went to bed with severe headaches and woke up with different accents a number of times. She has come down with Australian and Irish accents that lasted about a month, and most recently a British accent that lasted two years. Myers says of her most recent accent:

 “Everybody only sees or hears Mary Poppins.”

The Post says that “the disorder typically occurs after strokes or traumatic brain injuries damage the language center of a person’s brain — to the degree that their native language sounds like it is tinged with a foreign accent,” and “sufferers typically produce grammatically correct language, unlike many stroke or brain-injury victims…”

The condition was first documented in 1907 when a Parisian man suffered a stroke and woke up with a Alsatian accent. There have been about a 100 documented cases worldwide since it was first discovered. Last year, a woman from Texas woke up from surgery with a British accent. From ABC News:

“I was very shocked,” Alamia told ABC News. “I didn’t know how to take it. I was very confused. I said ‘ya’ll’ all the time before the accent. Once I got the accent, I started noticing I’d say, ‘You all.”

Some people afflicted with FAS naturally recover their original accents. Others may or may not find relief in behavioral therapy or speech therapy.

A New UV Light to Kill the Flu Virus?

According to a new study in Scientific Reports, scientists have come up with a UV light that kills the influenza virus and is also safe for human contact. Current UV devices are often used for sterilization in medical settings but prolonged exposure can cause skin cancer and other problems.

A team at the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center found a potential solution by using something known as far-UVC light instead:

“We wanted to get all the benefits of UV light in terms of killing microbes, but none of the health hazards,” says Brenner. Earlier studies, on animals and humans, have shown that exposure to far-UVC light does indeed appear to be safe. “We haven’t seen any biological damage to skin cells or eye cells, whereas with conventional UV light we’ve always seen lots of biological damage,” he says. Previous research has also shown that far-UVC light can kill MRSA bacteria, a common cause of infections after surgery.

The study shows that the light “inactivated the viruses with about the same efficiency as conventional germicidal UV light…” This type of light could be effective for numerous public settings where the flu and other viruses could quickly spread.

Now, the team hopes to develop commercially available lamps that will kill viruses in public places. Note that this is not an excuse to not practice good hand-washing habits.