OK, I'm going to give you an advanced warning: If you are squeamish, you might want to stop reading now, and move on to something else. These photos of Abby Beckley pulling worms out of her eye are not for the faint of stomach. But rest assured, it all ends up OK in the end.
BuzzFeed News reports that Beckley, a young woman from Portland, Oregon, was traveling on a fishing boat in Alaska in 2016 when she began experiencing eye irritation that persisted for a week. After looking more closely at the inside of her eyelid, Beckley touched the affected area, and she removed what was the first in a horrifyingly long series of small, white worms from her eye. Not surprisingly, Beckley couldn't quite believe what was happening to her, or if what she was seeing was real. She told BuzzFeed News,
I put my fingers in there in kind of a picking motion and I pulled out a worm. I looked at my finger and it was moving and I was shocked.
She even shared one of the creepy-crawlers that she'd pulled from her eye with a bunkmate on the fishing boat, who confirmed that it did, indeed, appear to be a worm. Eek.
In the days that followed, the worms continued to crawl around in Beckley's eye, and she continued to pull them out when she could. Eventually, Beckley had to return to Portland to meet with specialists at the Oregon Science and Health University, where two worms were extracted and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even after her visit to the clinic, though, Beckley continued to pull more and more worms from her eye.
Beckley told CNN,
My left eye just got really irritated and red, and my eyelid was droopy. I was getting migraines too, and I was like, "What is going on?"
The scientists involved in identifying Beckley's worms realized she'd been infected with a parasite that usually only infects cows.
“It's never been found in humans before,” Richard Bradbury, the parasitologist at the CDC, who was able to identify the worm, told BuzzFeed News. When all was said and done, 14 worms were removed from Beckley's eye.
So, how did she manage to get these gnarly little friends living in her eye? Well, apparently, the worms are laid by "face flies." The flies contract the parasite — called Thelazia gulosa — from the feces of worm-infested cows, then the flies lay their larvae.
According to CNN, while eye worms in humans aren't entirely uncommon in other parts of the world, especially in places where there might be, for whatever reason, more flies around a person's face, this particular species isn't the kind that typically infects the human eye.
In fact, Beckley's case appears to be the first time that these worms have ever been found to infect a human.
So, not only was this a gross and scary experience for Beckley, it also happened to be a scientific anomaly.
Not surprisingly, Beckley was worried about what would have happened to her eyes if the condition weren't cared for. She told CNN,
I tried not go to the darkest place, like, are these worms going to paralyze my face or infect my brain or impact my vision?
A doctor confirmed for her that the worms were just going to lay on the surface of her eye and not burrow (phew!). While the parasite can apparently cause more serious damage to vision in untreated animals, humans are able to treat the worms because they notice and remove them.
The good news about all of this? These little fellows are probably not something the rest of us need to be concerned about, as this particular species is not in danger of going viral on humans, so to speak. Beckley was likely infected by the cows near her home in Oregon, before she went on the fishing trip. CDC parasitologist Richard Bradbury also told BuzzFeed News that Beckley's instance seemed like "a curiosity." The case was so rare, in fact, that a report was published about Beckley's experience in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Bottom line: The infection was likely a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it's nothing that the rest of us need to lose sleep over.
The moral of this story, my friends? Watch out for flies, and make sure to investigate any eye irritations that may plague you. When it comes to natural oddities, you just never know.