A rare eye infection resulted in 14 worms in Abby Beckley’s eye. Suppose the shock of looking into an irritated eye for an annoying eyelash or other cumbersome irritation, only to pull out a limpid, wiggling worm nearly a half-inch long. According to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Oregon woman is the first documented human to have contacted this parasitic infection. The disease, usually found in animals, is spread by “face flies,” which feed on the tears that lubricate the eyeball.
The face fly is a robust fly that closely resembles the housefly. Face flies do not bite, but instead, feeds on animal secretions, nectar and dung liquids. Adult female face flies typically cluster around the host’s eyes, mouth, and muzzle, causing extreme annoyance. Female face flies are the source of nematode eye worm.
The complete egg to adult life cycle takes about three weeks. When flies emerge, they mate and the females seek a protein source that is necessary for egg development. Typically, this protein source will be secretions from cattle, horses and other animals.
Beckley had been fishing and riding horses in a coastal, cattle-farming area in Oregon. For nearly a week, the young woman battled an irritated eye. Until one day, she pulled the first worm from behind her eyelid. She said:
So I pulled my eye kind of down like this and I looked in that bottom little crevice and I was like something looks wrong, maybe I have a piece of fuzz stuck there. So I went like this, in like a picking motion, and I felt something in between my fingers and I pulled it out and I looked at my finger and it was a moving worm.
Visits to the doctor and a local ophthalmologist also proved fruitless. Several doctors examined Beckley’s eye. They had never seen anything of the sort before. As she waited at the doctor’s office, she pulled another four worms from her eye. The woman remembers hoping and praying the worms would surface so, the doctors could gain a visual. At times, she said, they would go under the eyelid or behind the eye and for a time would no longer be visible. Beckley added:
Luckily, after a half-hour, the worms made an appearance. I felt one squiggle across my eye, and I told the doctors, ‘You need to look right now!’ I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they saw it move across my eye.
Parasitic eye worms are common among cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs, and wild carnivores like wolves and foxes. Veterinarians treat the infection in livestock and pets with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. However, when left untreated, the worms can live and reproduce up to 30 months, leading to vision loss or even blindness. Beckley did not suffer that fate, because, the worms were removed.
Doctors did not treat her with any eye medication for fear that the parasites would die inside her eye and never be removed. The woman pulled, not one, but 14 worms for her eyes. After all the worms were out, she experienced no additional symptoms. The incident occurred in August 2016, however, today, the 28-year-old’s eyes are healthy with no sign of larvae.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
CNN: ‘I looked at it, and it was moving’: Worm in woman’s eye leads to unique discovery
Fox News: Oregon woman has 14 worms pulled from eye after rare infection
The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene: Case Report: Conjunctival Infestation with Thelazia gulosa: A Novel Agent of Human Thelaziasis in the United States
University of Nebraska: The Face Fly
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