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He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.
Two headlines broke new ground recently when it comes to horror and adversity. Coincidentally, they both involved worms and left eyes: "Woman pulls wiggling cattle worms from her eyeball, makes medical history" appeared along with "Brain-eating pork worm removed from man's eye."
The world we live in is a dangerous place. The front page of every newspaper screams death and misery; every website features one or more “click bait” headlines promising doom and gloom; every television news service streams worrisome headlines. There is potential nuclear conflict, possible stock market crashes, and alleged undermining of American democracy by foreign agents.
I understand media outlets have to generate viewers to gain revenue, but the never-ending cacophony of negative stuff makes it easy to get discouraged and hard to venture from the couch on some days.
But on Tuesday, Feb. 13, two headlines broke new ground when it comes to horror and adversity. Coincidentally, they both involved worms and left eyes: “Woman pulls wiggling cattle worms from her eyeball, makes medical history”1 appeared along with “Brain-eating pork worm removed from man’s eye.”2
Any reasonable person would agree that-when faced with dueling news reports with titles like these-it would be hard for anyone to decide which to click on first. The clincher for me was that the second article included a video that came with the warning that it might be too “graphic” (i.e., disgusting).
Who could resist that?
Sam Cordero recalls eating some undercooked pork at Christmastime. A couple months later, he noted a black dot moving around in his vision. Don Perez, MD, of Tampa General Hospital, observed the wiggling parasite in Cordero’s left eye. Cordero says he doesn’t think he will ever eat pork again.
On the opposite coast, Abby Beckley of Oregon, who enjoys equestrian events, experienced irritation in her left eye about one week after a horseback riding trip. She pulled her lower lid down and saw something that looked like a piece of fuzz. She reached to grab the fuzz and “felt something in between my fingers and I pulled it out and I looked at my finger and it was a moving worm.”
To add insult to injury, the subheading blames Beckley for contracting the condition by stating that “CDC experts suspect she just didn’t swat a flay away fast enough.” This particular worm, Thelazia gulosa, is spread from cow to cow by flies who land on or near the eyes, and Beckley is believed to be the first human to acquire this zoonotic infection.
Certainly, it is not rare for humans to contract parasitic infections, but the American public’s concern about their eyes and vision makes the appearance of worms in that organ particularly enticing for the mass media probably explains why these headlines might be so attention-grabbing. It is hard to be neutral about worms (brain-eating or otherwise) popping up in one’s eyeball, and fear of losing vision is the number-one health-care worry of Americans.3
Providing some solace to those reading these articles who might otherwise never eat meat or venture outside among pigs, cows, or flies again, both stories ended reasonably well.
Cordero underwent a vitrectomy and his worm fell victim to the vitrector of Dr. Perez.
Beckley had 14 worms manually extracted and apparently effected a full recovery and is leading a happy and worm-free (for now) life.