- A 43-year-old man in China was having headaches and seizures, and doctors found hundreds of tapeworms living in his brain and chest, according to reports.
- The worms likely came from eggs on a piece of undercooked pork the man ate. When the eggs hatch and the larvae grow, they cause cysts that can become infected lesions inside the body.
- Tapeworm infections in the brain are rare in developed countries, but this and other parasitic infections are best prevented by cooking meat properly and washing hands thoroughly.
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When 43-year-old Zhu Zhong-fa of China went to the hospital complaining of a headache and seizures that caused him to lose consciousness, doctors found hundreds of tapeworms living in his brain and chest, Newsweek reported.
The parasites are believed to have come from a piece of undercooked pork the man had eaten about a month before in a hot pot he “felt unsure about,” Newsweek said. Doctors at a hospital at Zhejiang University found the worms by using an MRI brain scan after they were unable to find the cause of his headaches.
The man recovered and was in stable condition a week after treatment, but doctors said the long-term health effects were unclear, a Fox News report said.
Neurocysticercosis is a parasitic disease that occurs when a person accidentally ingests tapeworm eggs from tainted food or water and the resulting larvae infect the brain. It is uncommon in developing countries and best prevented by cooking meat appropriately and washing hands thoroughly, since the parasites are spread through human feces.
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Infections, though rare, can be deadly
The species in this case was Taenia solium, which can grow up to 22 feet in length and contain 50,000 eggs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The worms typically attach to the intestine to siphon nutrients from the host’s digestive system.
However, larvae hatching from eggs can migrate into the muscles and other tissue, forming protective cysts. As the larvae grow and expand through the body, the cysts can become infected and create lesions, or damage, in tissue.
Though the infection can be treated with medications, the tissue damage can’t be reversed, Newsweek reported. The situation can quickly become life-threatening if the parasites are in the brain – an 18-year-old in India reported a severe tapeworm infection in his eye and brain, and despite treatment, he died two weeks after being hospitalized, said a case study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year.
Symptoms of cysticercosis, the cysts caused by larvae, can also occur months or even years after the initial parasite infection. However, many people with tapeworm infections may show only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all, according to the CDC.
If you believe you may have been infected or experience digestive issues such as abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, and upset stomach, contact a health provider immediately. In some cases, treatment is not necessary if the tapeworm exits the body on its own, according to the Mayo Clinic.
To prevent becoming a tapeworm’s new home in the first place, cook meat, especially pork, to at least 145 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Using warm water and soap, thoroughly wash your hands and any plates or utensils after contact with raw meat.
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