Abby Beckley was working on an Alaskan fishing boat back in 2016 when she discovered something fishy in her left eye.
Actually, it wasn’t fish, it was worms ― 14 of them.
The 28-year-old Oregon resident felt a prick under her eyelid and figured it was just a stray lash. But after a week, she decided to see what was causing the irritation.
“I put my fingers in there in kind of a picking motion and I pulled out a worm,” Beckley told BuzzFeed. “I looked at my finger and it was moving and I was shocked.”
It gets grosser. She pulled out about six more of the tiny worms over the next few days.
Fearing a serious problem, Beckley got in contact with Dr. Erin Bonura, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University.
“Her boyfriend’s dad is a physician and he said, ’My son’s girlfriend has worms in her eye. What should we do?’” Bonura told OregonLive.com.
Doctors who examined Beckley’s eye weren’t sure what they were seeing. “It’s very uncommon to have worms in the eye,” Bonura said.
She consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which identified the worms as Thelazia gulosa, a parasite typically found on cow eyeballs.
Richard Bradbury, team lead of the Parasitology Reference Diagnostic Laboratory at the CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, told CBS News that 14 worms were removed from Beckley’s eye over a 20-day period.
“They weren’t able to remove them all at once. They had to remove them as they became present and visible,” Bradbury said.
All of the worms pulled from Beckley’s eye were less than a half-inch long. Although the worms cause eye irritation, Bradbury said there’s likely no permanent damage.
“It’s just really gross and very psychologically disturbing to see multiple small worms crawling across the surface of your eye,” Bradbury said.
Doctors believe Beckley was infected when a fly landed on her eye while she was traveling through cattle fields in southern Oregon, according to USA Today.
This is only the 11th case of a human being infected in North America.
Previous cases of similar eye worm infections have been found predominantly in Europe and Asia and in rural communities with close proximity to animals and with poor living standards, the researchers told the New York Post.
A study on Beckley’s eye worm infection appears in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine And Hygiene.
Meanwhile, Beckley said she wants to get the word out about what she went through.
“If this happens to anyone else, I just want them to know that I’m OK,” Beckley told BuzzFeed.
CORRECTION: The headline in a previous version of this story incorrectly indicated doctors removed the worms from Beckley’s eye. She removed most of them herself.