Oregon woman's condition first known case for humans: 14 worms pulled from eye

Images: Abby Beckley

An Oregon woman thought she had an irritated eye because of a stray eyelash or even a piece of fuzz, but she ended up pulling out more than a dozen worms form her left eye.

What started as an irritated eye for Abby Beckley about a year and a half ago, turned into a startling discovery.

“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,” Beckley told FOX 12. “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.”

The then-26-year-old from Brookings was in Alaska at the time and knew she needed to get it checked out in person.

“I ended up flying back to Oregon to deal with this,” she said. “Between the first worm I pulled out and then the doctor’s appointment, I had seen about four so I knew there wasn’t just one.”

She said doctors were just as puzzled at first.

“It was honestly the most unique call we’ve ever gotten and I was wondering where she had been, had she traveled to another country, because it was relatively unheard of to get worms in the eye in the United States,” said Doctor Erin Bonura, an assistant professor of medicine, infectious diseases, in the OHSU School of Medicine.

As for treatment, Bonura said she encouraged Beckley to keep pulling out the worms when she could.

“It’s a little unsatisfying to ask the patient to just keep pulling out the worms, but that is the best thing to do because if we give her an antiparasitic agent, the worms would die in there but wouldn’t be removed,” Bonura said.

“There was 14 of them total and I was the only one that was able to successfully pick them out and it was the only thing making my eye feel better,” said Beckley.

Beckley said it took several weeks to pull all 14 out and she’s been worm-free ever since.

“When I was going through it, it was like, there were parts of it that were so strangely comical,” said Beckley. “But then there were parts of it that just felt like I was living in a nightmare.”

Beckley ended up being diagnosed with Thelazia gulosa. That's a type of eye worm seen in cattle in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, but never before in humans.

They are spread by a type of fly known as "face flies." The flies feed on the tears that lubricate the eyeball, scientists said.

"When I was researching this, I couldn’t find anything about this and that’s really, that’s scary,” Beckley said. “And so I’m hoping if this ever happens again, that that one person can Google this now and there will be a bunch of stories and they’ll know oh this girl made it out okay, like she’s OK. I can be OK too.”

Beckley said she did live on an Oregon ranch with a cow and she’s guessing that’s where she got it.

Bonura said it’s very rare and people shouldn’t be worried.

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