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.

“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.