Woman's rare eye infection highlights (low) risk of parasite spread by flies

Thelazia gulosa a type of eye worm seen in cattle in the northern United States and southern Canada but never before

SUPPLIED Thelazia gulosa a type of eye worm seen in cattle in the northern United States and southern Canada but never before in humans before

An Oregon woman who had worms coming out of her eye is being called the first known human case of a parasitic infection spread by flies.

Doctors did not treat her with any eye medication for fear that the parasites would die inside her eye and never be removed. The next day she proceeded to an optometrist, who found another three worms.

Several eye worms from the OR case were sent to the federal agency's parasitic disease laboratory where they were identified as cattle eye worms OR Thelazia gulosa. Beckley did not suffer that fate, because, the worms were removed. "They had to remove them as they became present and visible", Bradbury said.

The parasites were translucent and around half an inch long.

That worm is found throughout the northern US and southern Canada, but until now was never found to affect humans. "Oh my gosh! It just crawled across your eye!" Maybe a common but harmless salmon worm had fallen into her eye.

"What was really exciting it that it is a new species that has never infected people before", lead author Richard Bradbury, Team Lead for the Parasitology Reference Diagnostic Laboratory at the CDC's Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, told CNN. Over the course of the next few weeks, 14 worms, in total, emerged from Beckley's eyes. Thankfully, that type of infection is very rare and is only caused by eating undercooked pork.

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Mary, who was keen on outdoor activities, had been practising horsemanship in the area of Gold Beach, where cattle farming is prominent. Worm larvae in tears get sucked into the fly's intestines, where they grow and go through two molts.

Transmission is facilitated by female flies of the Musca and Fannia subgroups, which are known to feed on protein-rich eye secretion of animals. In this instance, the woman might have been too distracted while riding horseback to free a hand and shoo the fly off.

What a woman thought as an ordinary eye inflammation is actually an infection that only occurs among cattle. "Now, we have to add Thelazia gulosa, a third one to the list".

"But their presence in upstate NY suggests this geographic area is potentially suitable for spreading the eye worms that cause human infections in Europe and Asia".

An eye specialist sent off samples to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "They'll find each other, and you know...it's very romantic". The researchers wrote, "Occasionally, the worms migrate across the surface of the eye and cause corneal scarring, opacity, and blindness". Well, they typically live in face flies, which hang around livestock, and a fly most likely landed on her face while she was in OR visiting her family and friends who have animals.

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