Before James Gunn was the master of snarky superheroes, he was most well-known for a string of grotesque movies including a handful of Troma films and TV episodes, and script work for movies like Thirteen Ghosts and Dawn of the Dead. Gunn’s fascination with the horrific and squirmy came to a head in his 2006 body horror flick, Slither (coming to Peacock September 1).
Slither begins with a meteorite, carrying an alien parasite, striking the fictional town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. The slug-like parasite slithers out of the impact crater and infects local resident Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), taking control of his mind and body. You’d think having the misfortune of the same first and last name would be back luck enough, but that was only the beginning of Grant Grant’s trouble.
The parasite transforms Grant into a horrific Lovecraftian terror, bent on infecting the rest of the town before taking on the world, incorporating all life into a slimy collective consciousness. It’s the sort of horror film that works without any additional explanation. Having a worm inside you, especially one fiddling with your mind, might be the ultimate nightmare. And it’s one experienced first-hand, in the real world, by a woman in Australian and her team of doctors, when they uncovered a three-inch worm living inside her brain.
Doctors Pulled a Three-Inch Live Worm from a Woman’s Brain
Recently, a team of Australian doctors reported the first case of Ophidascaris robertsi (a species of parasitic nematode worm) in a human being. The case was documented in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
An unidentified 64-year-old patient was first admitted to an Australian hospital in January 2021, following three weeks of stomach pain, diarrhea, dry cough, and night sweats. Scans initially revealed lesions in the lungs and the patient was treated for pneumonia and sent home. Three weeks later, she was back in the hospital with recurrent fever and a persistent cough, even when using cough medications.
Doctors initiated another round of treatment in the hospital, and noted that some symptoms improved while others persisted. That’s because the doctors were looking in the wrong place, they just didn’t know it yet. By 2022, the patient was experiencing forgetfulness and worsening depression. An MRI of the brain revealed an unusual looking lobe, prompting an open biopsy.
During exploration, Dr. Hari Priya Bandi, the patient’s surgeon and co-author of the report, noticed a string-like structure which she removed. “I was able to feel something separate. I took my tweezers, my tumor-holding forceps, and I pulled it out. I thought ‘gosh, what is that? It’s moving. Take it out of my hands!,’ Dr. Bandi told the BBC. “It was definitely not what we were expecting. Everyone was shocked. The worm that we found was happily moving, quite vigorously, outside the brain.”
How a Human Got Infected by Ophidascaris robertsi
Ophidascaris robertsi infections are relatively common in Australia, but they occur almost exclusively in carpet python snakes and small mammals, particularly marsupials. Until now, no known human has ever been infected.
Adult nematodes live inside the esophagus and stomach of carpet pythons and shed their eggs in the snakes’ feces. Small, opportunistic mammals then show up looking for an easy, nutritious snack and gobble those snake turds down, nematode eggs and all. The eggs develop inside those mammals who are then consumed by snakes, closing the loop. The circle of life.
The patient reported no direct contact with carpet pythons, but she does live near a lake with a stable carpet python population. The patient also reported regularly collecting local vegetation for cooking. Doctors hypothesize she may have come into contact with infected snake feces while gathering veggies and was either infected directly by consuming contaminated greens or secondarily through contaminated hands or kitchen surfaces.
Fortunately, unless you live near a thriving population of carpet pythons, you don’t need to worry about this particular parasite. However, doctors noted that other Ophidascaris species infect other species of snake all over the world, opening up the possibility of human infection by related species. Remember to wash your hands and veggies, kids! Nobody wants brain parasites.
Get your body horror fix with Slither, streaming on Peacock September 1.