A case report published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine describes the disturbing story of a woman with a giant parasite crawling inside her face.
After the unidentified 32-year-old woman visited an area of rural Moscow, she began to notice a growing lump below her left eye. Five days later, the lump had grown but migrated above her eye. Ten days after that, it had grossly swollen her upper lip. When doctors opened up her face, they found a Dirofilaria repens.
Rostov State Medical University Professor of Medicine, Dr. Vladimir Kartashev, told CNN, “The parasite can appear and disappear in few minutes,” but “doctors who are not familiar with the disease don’t believe … the patients. That’s why I asked the patient to make selfies.” Physicians find the strange, migratory presentation “extremely confusing.”
An adult D. repens can grow up to nearly seven inches long. According to the CDC, they can also spend a decade living inside their hosts. For the most part, they are not dangerous to humans. Still, rare cases have seen them find their way into eyes, lungs, and genitals. One even caused meningoencephalitis, or swelling in the brain.
Despite its disturbing nature, Dr. Jorgen Kurtzhals, a professor at University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital and president of the World Federation of Parasitologists, wants to be certain people to not succumb to undue fear. “A lot of people have a fear of contracting worms of various kinds. I think it is important not to scare people. This is still a very rare condition — despite the apparently rising numbers,” he said.