CAMBRIDGE, England — About four years ago, a man began experiencing chronic headaches, and doctors treated him for tuberculosis.
Recently, he returned to them with new symptoms and doctors at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge discovered he had a tapeworm that was pushing on a new part of his brain, causing seizures and weakness in his legs.
Because there is no drug to effectively treat the Spirometra erinaceieuropaei tape worm infection, doctors had to perform surgery to remove the worm from the 50-year-old man.
It’s believed the patient accidentally drunk water while swimming in a lake contaminated with worm eggs. When the worms are still larvae they can invade humans through ingestion or direct contact with infected animals.
CNN reports that once they are consumed, the worms can move throughout the body, into a person’s eyes and tissues, but the most common place they go is to the brain.
While this patient’s type of tapeworm was less common, there’s a more common form of tapeworm called Taenia Solium.
“It’s mainly the pork tapeworm that’s the main brain one,” said Helena Helmby from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The pork tapeworm species is often contracted when humans eat undercooked pork from infected pigs. Most of these tapeworms remain in the intestine.
If the larval form enters a person’s body through contact with infected pig feces or from an infected human, the worm can infect the nervous system and cause epilepsy once inside the brain.
The patient, who was of Chinese descent, had recently visited China, which along with South Korea, Japan and Thailand, has more regular occurrences of the parasite known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei.