The photos will definitely make you squirm.
About a year and a half ago, Abby Beckley was fishing in Alaska when she realized there were tiny worms in her eye, according to several reports. Doctors determined her eyeball was host to a parasitic worm called Thelazia gulosa.
In the case report published by The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene on Monday, parasitologists wrote, “Until now, only two species of Thelazia have been implicated in causing human disease … Here, we describe a third, previously unreported parasite of human, T. gulosa (the cattle eyeworm) as an agent of human thelaziasis and the first reported case of human thelaziasis in North America in over two decades.”
Describing Beckley as a “26-year-old outdoorswoman,” the report details that she had previously worked in an environment associated with cattle farming. After eight days of experiencing irritation in her eye, she removed a “small, translucent worm.” Over the course of 20 days, Beckley and medical professionals removed 13 more worms. It’s believed she contracted the infection from exposure to flies, which carry these worms that normally infect the eyes of cattle.
“I was just pulling these worms out of my eye,” Beckley told USA Today. “I stared at it and it was alive.”
Aileen Marty, MD, a professor of infectious diseases in the department of medicine at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, tells Health more about the infection. Her research shows that the first human infection with a Thelazia roundworm was in 1917.
“These are closely related worms of the eye that mainly affect non-human animals and are very similar morphologically and clinically,” she says.
For those concerned about their eye health and safety, Dr. Marty says Beckley’s diagnosis is an anomaly. “Literally hundreds of sporadic infections have manifested in humans throughout Asia,” she says. “Infections are particularly common in certain locations, and they can manifest worldwide; they are just very uncommon compared to most other parasitic infections.”
This case is what Dr. Marty calls a "sporadic event" and not something likely to happen often in the United States. More common eye infections to protect yourself from are viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, or pink eye. To avoid exposure to these infections, Dr. Marty recommends keeping your hands clean and not touching your eyes with contaminated fingers.