USA woman found with eye worm previously known only in cattle

USA woman found with eye worm previously known only in cattle

That's what happened to an avid 26-year-old outdoorswoman from OR, who recently became the first human ever infected by a type of eye worm previously seen only in cattle.

Medical parasitologist Richard Bradbury told CNN he identified the species as Thelazia gulosa (cattle eyeworm) after he recalled it was described in a 1928 journal.

That worm is found throughout the northern USA and southern Canada, but until now was never found to affect humans. This particular eye worm species has never been documented in humans, making Beckley's case particularly unique, and a bit frightening.

Two summers ago, OR resident Abby Beckley found herself standing in front of a mirror on an Alaskan fishing boat, pulling tiny worms out of her eye.

After a week of battling an irritated eye, she pulled out a worm. In the woman's case, however, she didn't need the drug because her infection went away after the worms were removed, and she didn't have any more symptoms, the researchers said.

In total, 14 translucent parasitic worms were pulled from her eye over a 20 day period. It was actually a translucent worm as thin as a thread, measuring nearly an inch long.

The worms are found in all sorts of animals - cats, dogs, horses, cattle and wild carnivores. Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later confirmed that she had contracted Thelazia gulosa. The doctor told her to "keep an eye on it", and Beckley returned to the fishing boat. If the worm died in the eye, it likely would have caused him to go blind.

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Doctors removed the eye worms with small, tweezer-like forceps or irrigation of the infected eye. In both cases, it's typically children and the elderly that are infected as they have a harder time keeping flies out of their eyes.

'Between the first worm I pulled out and then the doctor's appointment, I had seen about four so I knew there wasn't just one'. "And they were saying things like, 'A lot of people, when they have this claim, it's usually just mucus, but wouldn't it be fascinating if there was a worm?' " Beckley says. Over the course of two weeks, more than a dozen worms were extracted from her eye, according to the study.

Two other species of Thelazia - callipaeda and californiensis - were already known to infect humans, but mostly in Europe and Asia and in places with poor living conditions and where people live in close daily contact with animals.

If left in the eye the parasites can migrate across the surface of the eye and cause corneal scarring and even blindness, the report said.

"That morning, I just was so frustrated because I had had this irritant in my eye for about five days", Beckley, now a psychology student at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, said over the phone Monday.

It all started to make sense: Abby hadn't contracted the worms while on the boat, but on her ranch in OR, where she has a cow.

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