A 32-year-old woman in Russia visited medics after noticing strange lumps on her face for two weeks, where she discovered she had a worm living under her skin.
The unnamed woman went to an eye doctor after the bumps, which she said itched and burned, moved from her eye socket to her lip, making it swell up like a balloon.
She had first noticed a small bump beneath her left eye, then five days later it had moved of its own accord to the top of her eye, just above her eyelid.
It remained there for ten days, before disappearing and then causing her top lip to swell up far beyond its normal size.
Doctors saw the lump was moving, identified it as as a parasitic worm and removed it with surgery.
The type of worm which lodged itself in the woman’s eye are the kind which can enter people’s immune system and cause elephantiasis or blindness.
The unnamed Russian woman took regular photos of herself to keep track of the lumps as they moved around her face
The woman kept track of the lumps in her face by taking close-up selfies, which she then showed to a doctor when they did not go away on its own.
Her condition began with a small, barely-visible bump between her left eye and her nose, a case study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows.
But after five days, that had disappeared and a disturbing group of bubble-looking lumps appeared above her eyelid, which stayed there for ten days.
She then visited a doctor when part of her upper lip had swollen to more than twice its normal size.
She visited a doctor after her lip ballooned approximately two weeks after she noticed the first small lump beneath her left eye
The bumps were itchy and sometimes caused a burning feeling, she said, but did not cause any other symptoms.
The woman remembered travelling to a rural area of Russia outside of Moscow where she was bitten a lot of times by mosquitoes.
It is not clear whether the bumps remained in her eye when her lip was swollen – medics reportedly found ‘a superficial moving oblong nodule at the left upper eyelid’.
The worms live in dogs and are spread by mosquito bites
Doctors realised it was a parasite – an organism which lives off another living creature – then held it still with forceps and cut it out of her face. The woman made a full recovery after the procedure.
The worm was later identified as Dirofilaria repens, a type of parasitic filarial worm which is normally found in dogs or other carnivores and is spread by mosquito bites.
This diagnosis of the worms living beneath a person’s skin is not unheard of, and was diagnosed 1,272 times between 1997 and 2013 in Russia and Belarus, according to a 2015 study.
The worms lay eggs inside a biting insect such as a mosquito, and they may then be passed onto a mammal and grow into a worm inside its body.
As a parasite, the worms get all the nutrients they need from the body of their host and cannot survive outside the body.
Doctors found the lumps were caused by a moving parasitic worm, which they cut out in surgery
The first sign of the worm was a small bump beneath the woman’s eye, but it did not take long to progress to something larger
Filarial worms can cause infections such as elephantiasis – in which the parasite gets into the lymph nodes and causes parts of the body to swell up to massive proportions – or river blindness, so-called because it is spread by flies which breed in streams and rivers.
WHAT IS A PARASITE?
A parasite is an organism which lives inside another living organism, and depends on other creatures in order to stay alive. They often harm their host in the process.
Many different parasites affect humans and they can transmit deadly diseases such as malaria and trichomoniasis, which can be passed on during sex.
Around three quarters of parasites are so small they’re not visible to the human eye but some, such as worms, may grow much larger.
Examples of parasites which may live in humans include tapeworms and roundworm, which both live in the digestive tract.
Possible symptoms of parasite infection include skin bumps or rashes, weight loss or increased appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhoea, and fever.
Source: Medical News Today
The worms can live for up to eight years and, during their life time, release millions of larvae into the blood.
Infections caught from these worms are known collectively as filariasis – the World Health Organisation says 856 million people around the world are at risk of the infection.
Filarial worm infection can devastate lives
Elephantiasis is one of the better-known conditions caused by filarial worms and can have devastating effects.
In March the story surfaced of Ashraf Ali, a 24-year-old man from Sheikh Darra in Pakistan, who is virtually bedridden as a result of elephantiasis in his legs.
His legs and feet have ballooned because of the condition caused by the worms, making him unable to work and he struggles to walk.
Mr Ali said: ‘When I walk, I feel as if a weight of four to five kgs have been tied to my legs.
‘I’m not able to do any work and I’m very scared.’
Mr Ali has such bad elephantiasis in his legs that he can no longer work but his family cannot afford the surgery he needs
After raising the money to visit a hospital, where the former field labourer stayed for almost a month, Mr Ali was told by doctors they were unable to treat him.
Specialists told Mr Ali’s family, who earn just £2 a day, surgery could help ease his symptoms but will cost more than £3,000.
His father Ali Nawaz said: ‘It’s painful to see my son in pain [however] we can’t afford his treatment as we don’t have the resources.’
Mr Ali’s family are appealing to their local government for financial support.