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Doctors found hundreds of tapeworms in a man's brain a month after he ate a pork hot pot he 'felt unsure about'

Gabby Landsverk , Business Insider US
 Nov 27, 2019, 06:02 PM
Tapeworm eggs are microscopic, but the adult worms can grow to be up to 22 feet long.
  • A 43-year-old Chinese man was suffering from headaches and seizures, and doctors found hundreds of tapeworms living in his brain and chest.
  • The worms likely came from eggs on a piece of under-cooked pork the man reportedly ate, doctors said. When the eggs reproduce, they cause cysts that become infected lesions inside the body.
  • Tapeworm infections in the brain are rare in developed countries, but are best prevented when meat is cook meat properly to avoid this and other parasitic infections.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

When 43-year-old Zhu Zhongfa 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, according to Newsweek.

The parasites are believed to have come from a piece of under-cooked pork the man had eaten about a month before as part of a hot pot he "felt unsure about," Newsweek reported. Doctors at the First Affiliated Hospital of College of Medicine at Zhejiang University found the worms by using an MRI brain scan after they were initially unable to find the cause of his headaches.

The man recovered well and was in stable condition a week after treatment, but doctors said the long-term health effects are unclear, according to Fox News.

Neurocysticercosis, a parasitic disease that occurs when a person accidentally ingests tapeworm eggs and the resulting larvae infect the brain, typically comes from consuming tainted food or water. It is uncommon in developing countries, and is best prevented by cooking meat appropriately and washing hands thoroughly, since the parasites are spread through human feces.

Cook meat, especially pork, thoroughly.

Infections, although 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 in order to siphon nutrients from the host's digestive system.

However, larvae hatching from eggs will 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.

Although the worms can be treated with medications, the damage they cause to tissue can't be reversed, Newsweek reported. And, the situation can quickly become life-threatening if the parasites are inside the brain. An 18-year-old in India reported a severe tapeworm infection in his eye and brain, and despite treatment, died two weeks after being hospitalised, according to 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 patients 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 (62- 71 degrees Celsius). Using warm water and soap, thoroughly wash your hands, and any plates or utensils, after contact with raw meat.

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