HANGZHOU, China — A 46-year-old construction worker in China suffering from seizures turned out to have tapeworms in his brain — suspected to be the result of eating undercooked meat.
About a month ago, Zhu (a pseudonym for the patient), from Luzhou, in eastern Zhejiang province, bought pork and mutton to cook in a spicy hot pot broth, according to a report published last week by the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University.
A few days later, he began to feel dizzy, and suffered headaches during the day, the report said. During the night, while he was sleeping, Zhu would experience seizure-like symptoms, similar to epilepsy.
Zhu’s coworkers found him during such a seizure, and quickly sent him to a nearby hospital, where a CT scan showed “intercranial calcifications” and lesions in his skull. However, Zhu declined any further examinations, not wanting to spend more money, and returned home, according to the report.
However, the symptoms did not go away and Zhu continued experiencing seizures. Finally, he went to the Zhejiang University hospital, where doctors performed an MRI scan and diagnosed him with neurocysticercosis — tapeworms on the brain.
After hearing that Zhu had eaten hot pot recently, the hospital’s chief physician speculated that the pork and mutton may have been infested with tapeworm larvae — which could then have entered Zhu’s digestive tract because the meat had not been cooked properly.
“I only simmered the meat a little,” Zhu said in the report. “The bottom of the pot with the spicy broth was red, so you couldn’t see if the meat had been cooked thoroughly.”
Zhu has since recovered, after doctors removed the tapeworms and reduced the pressure on his brain, the report said.
Neurocysticercosis is a parasitic infection that is contracted when someone swallows tapeworm eggs that have passed in the feces of another person who has an intestinal tapeworm. The larvae crawl out of the eggs and into muscle and brain tissues, where they form cysts — like the “calcifications” observed in Zhu’s CT scans.
Cysticercosis infections occur worldwide, though these parasitic invasions of the human body mostly occur in rural areas of countries where pigs are allowed to roam and where sanitation practices are poor, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though these infections may be rare among people who live in countries where pigs do not have contact with human feces, cysticercosis can be acquired anywhere in the world, including the United States and other Western nations. Just this June, a New York resident reported experiencing hallucinations and disorientation, which doctors believed was due to a brain tumor — until they discovered a baby tapeworm in her brain.