When 27-year-old Rochelle Harris, returned from the holiday of a lifetime in Peru, she thought little of the headaches that she had started to develop on the flight back to the UK. But within hours she had developed excruciating shooting pains down one side of her face and had started to hear strange scratching sounds in her head. The next morning she woke to a pillow soaked with fluid from her ear.
On her arrival back in the UK, Rochelle became increasingly concerned there may be something seriously wrong, so she visited her local Accident and Emergency department at the Royal Derby Hospital.
Initially doctors weren’t concerned by her symptoms and presumed that they had developed because of a minor ear infection or an infected mosquito bite. She was referred to the ear nose and throat (ENT) team for further investigation to rule out a more sinister problem, however Rochelle said that as her ear was being examined, the ENT specialist went silent.
The doctor had found a small hole in the ear canal which needed further investigation but would not explain what the problem was. After almost an hour of silent examination Rochelle, and her mother who had accompanied her, asked if they were any closer to a diagnosis.
The New World Army Screw Worm Fly (CGI pictured) laid eggs inside Rochelle’s ear where they hatched and feasted on her flesh. They eventually burrowed 12mm into Rochelle’s ear but luckily did not hit her facial nerve, which could have left her face paralysed
As doctors tried to get the maggots out of Rochelle’s ear, they retreated further into her head. Doctors described discovering a ‘writhing mass’ of the creatures deep inside her ear
She said: ‘My Mum asked her “Can you see what it is?” and the doctor said “If you don’t mind I’d prefer to speak to the registrar before I tell you anything”.
‘My Mum said “Please tell us” and that’s when the doctor said “You’ve got maggots in your ear”. I burst into tears instantly.’
Doctors tried to get the maggots out but the more medics delved into her ear, the more the larvae retreated into Rochelle’s head.
‘I was very scared – I wondered if they were in my brain. I thought to myself “This could be very, very serious.”‘
Doctors ordered an emergency brain scan to find out if any damage had been done by the maggots, as well as to determine how many there were and where they were hiding.
Here the the moment doctors found a ‘writhing mass of maggots’ is captured. The tips of a maggot’s head can be seen as doctors try to extract the larvae from Rochelle’s ear
There was a risk that they were migrating through her head. If one reached her brain it could cause meningitis, fatal bleeding and if one ate through her facial nerve she might be left facially paralysed.
Luckily, the scan showed that no damage had been done to Rochelle’s ear drum, blood vessels or facial nerve.
But they did discover that the maggots had chewed a 12mm hole into a ear canal.
Doctors then tried to drown them by flooding the ear canal with olive oil.
‘I had to wait overnight to see if the treatment worked,’ said Rochelle. ‘It was longest few hours of my life.
‘I just wanted them out of me and now I knew what was causing the sensations and sounds it made it all the worse.’
The next day doctors checked her ear and astonishingly the maggots were still alive. They managed to remove two, but doctors were concerned there might be one more left inside her.
Rochelle was sedated and surgeons explored her ear using a microscope and speculum. They were shocked by what they found.
As they pushed further inside the ear, they found what they described as a ‘writhing mass of maggots’. The two of maggots that had been extracted were not alone – further examination revealed Rochelle was in fact hosting a family of eight large maggots.
The maggots were immediately sent to a lab for analysis where it was discovered that that a New World Army Screw Worm Fly had laid eggs inside her ear.
Rochelle said she remembered walking through a swarm of flies when in Peru and a fly had got inside her ear. But once she had shooed it away she thought nothing more of it.
Since her traumatic encounter, Rochelle has suffered no long-term problems and she says that there has been a positive side-effect of having maggots living in her head.
She said: ‘I’m no longer as squeamish as I was about bugs – how can you be when they’ve been inside your head?’