Flesh-eating maggots grew inside a woman's head after a fly landed in her ear during a trip to Peru.
Rochelle Harris' ordeal, as doctors tried to get the larvae of the new world army screw worm fly out of her ear, is recounted in a new Discovery Channel documentary called Bugs, Bites and Parasites.
The first attempt to remove the maggots only resulted in them migrating further into Harris' head and it was feared they could reach her brain.
The larvae chewed a 12mm hole into 27-year-old Harris' ear canal, and when doctors finally got to the source of the problem they found a "writhing mass of maggots".
Harris, from Derby in the UK, knew something was wrong when she heard strange scratching sounds in her head, then awoke one day to find her pillow was soaked with fluid from her ear.
The woman had started developing headaches on the flight home from Peru. Within hours the scratching noises developed, along with excruciating shooting pains down one side of her face.
At Royal Derby Hospital doctors first thought the problem might be a minor ear infection or an infected mosquito bite, but decided to refer Harris to a specialist in case the problem was more sinister.
Harris recalled the specialist going silent while examining her ear when the doctor found a small ear canal hole. The doctor spent another hour in silent examination, and finally said: "You've got maggots in your ear".
First attempts to get the maggots failed as the larvae retreated further inside Harris' head. If one reached her brain it could cause meningitis, fatal bleeding, or she might be left facially paralysed.
Fortunately a brain scan showed no damage to the ear drum, blood vessels or facial nerve. Doctors tried to drown the maggots by flooding the ear canal with olive oil, but the attempt failed.
They did manage to get two maggots out but were worried a third might be left inside.
Pushing further inside the ear, with the help of a microscope and speculum, the doctors were stunned to discover what they described as a "writhing mass of maggots". A family of eight large maggots had made their home in Harris' head.
An analysis of the maggots found a new world army screw worm fly had laid eggs inside her ear.
Harris, who has no long term problems from the maggots, recalled that a fly got inside her ear when she walked through a swarm in Peru. She shooed it away and had thought nothing more of it.
- © Fairfax NZ News