GROSS

‘Eye Worms’: Doctors Identify First Case of Cattle Parasites in Humans

It took a team of scientists and a 1928 paper in a German journal to identify the floaty, clear worms swimming in Abby Beckley’s left eye.

CDC/Handout

An Oregon woman’s bizarre case study of “eye worms” is believed to be the first incident of a human carrying the species Thelazia gulosa, which had previously only been found in cattle.

The case, profiled in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, initially puzzled investigators. In August 2016, Abby Beckley, 28, thought her left eye was inflamed because of an eyelash; upon further inspection, she found a tiny translucent worm “alive and squiggling around,” she recounted to The Washington Post.

Still, she wasn’t concerned, thinking it was a salmon worm she might have picked up from a fishing boat in Alaska, where she had been a deckhand.

A visit to the clinic proved otherwise, showing that the one worm Beckley had pulled out wasn't the only inhabitant—there actually were 14 of them, and they were parasites. What was worse was that scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had no idea what these worms were.

It took a medical parasitologist and a bit of sleuthing into a nearly 100-year-old German medical journal to figure out that the clear worms swimming in Beckley's eye were not even supposed to be in humans, and were in fact the first documented case of a human harboring these worms, probably caused by a walk through a cattle farm where a fly may have landed on her eye.

Beckley is now fine. Her initial fears that her vision would be destroyed or that the worms had crawled into her brain were unfounded, and she hopes that her case will help reassure any one else who may get infected by Thelazia that they'll be okay: “If this does happen to anyone else, I want them to know this girl went through it, and she’s fine,” she told the Post.