Breaking: CNN – Worms Can Invade Your Brain from Eating This Common Food
Worms can invade your brain with eating this common food. Once you consume the worms, they can move throughout your body — your tissues, your eyes and most commonly your brain. It is a classic parasite, but this one can get into your head.
At 2013 inside of a British man’s brain they found a tapeworm, said Dr. Effrossyni Gkrania-Klotsas. In the United Kingdom this tapeworm had never been seen.
At Cambridge, team of doctors at Addenbrookes Hospital, four years earlier, had a patient – a man with first experienced symptoms, such as headaches. But then the patient returned. This patient, who was a Chinese descent, had recently visited China, which along with South Korea, Japan and Thailand, had more regular occurrences of the parasite known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei.
Gkrania – Klotsas said “When he returned, he had new symptoms”. The worm was now pushing on a new part of his brain. It started causing seizures and weakness in his legs. In fact, the condition associated was infection Sparganosis. There is no known drug to effectively treat the infection meaning that upon diagnosis doctors had to be quick to remove the worm surgically.
In the period between 1953 and 2013 300 infections of the Spirometra tapeworm were recorded. Infections are thought to be more common in parts of Asia, the population that lives there has very little knowledge about worms.
Geneticist Hayley Bennett from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in Cambridge, whose team recently sequenced the genome of the rare worm, said “These worms are pretty mysterious”. They know that this life cycle is more complicated.
The adult form of the Spirometra tapeworm only occurs in the intestines of cats and dogs but as these animals shed the worm’s eggs in their feces the eggs can enter, and contaminate, water. The resulting juvenile form of tapeworm — known as larvae — can then stay in the water within certain small crustaceans or end up in frogs and snakes.
Through ingestion or direct contact with infected animals, these larvae can invade humans. According to Gkrania – Klotsas, they had a patient in Cambridge who accidentally drunk water whilst swimming in an infected lake.
Bennett said “The larvae can encyst in the brain or somewhere else”. These cysts can cause paralysis, tissue damage, blindness or even death. Bennett hoped to understand these sequencing from the worm’s genes and the inner working of the worms to aid future diagnosis and treatment.
It is a very rare infection, and creating a drug just for this worm isn’t economically viable, but by comparing it to other tapeworms the doctors (researchers) can see which other drugs might apply.
Small samples of the worm, extracted from the infected patient, could help recognize resistance to drugs as well as act as future drug target. From these small samples they will identify an exceptionally large genome and genes. Bennett adds “You could also develop a diagnostic test”.
The tapeworm has many types of forms but three of which can readily infect the brain. Helena Helmby from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said “It’s mainly the pork tapeworm that’s the main brain one” .
The pork species, Taenia Solium, can infect humans in two forms:
- The first form of infection – is by eating undercooked pork from infected pigs, resulting in taeniasis — an adult worm residing in the intestine.
- The second form of infections – is in the larval form, through contact with the feces of an infected pig or human, which can go on to infect many tissues. If the larval worm enters the nervous system, including the brain, it can result in a condition known as neurocysticercosis. This kind of infection can often cause epilepsy once inside the brain. According to the World Health Organization, almost a third of epilepsy cases in countries where the disease is native are people who have previously had neurocysticercosis.
With poor sanitation and hygiene Neurocysticercosis infection arises. Helmby said “You can actually infect yourself,” as poor hygiene, such as failing to wash your hands, could result in you eating the eggs of an adult worm living in your intestine. “Self-infection is common.”
However with high numbers across Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to the World Health Organization, the global distribution of pork tapeworms is widespread. Gkrania – Klotsas has three patients in her care in Cambridge who have previously experienced neurocysticercosis.
Cause for concern?
Treatment for Spirometra has been surgical; however, In Cambridge, Bennett’s team found some drugs, such as praziqantil, that could have an effect. These drugs are used against schistosomiasis (snail fever). Also certain drugs used against cancer were identified as potential treatments. The treatments with anthelmintic drugs are targeting the worm, although infections with pork tapeworms are common.
About the risks from increased international travel and the global food trade are concerned both Helmby and Gkrania – Klotsas. With the rapid development of the food import and export, the risks of consuming infected goods are increasing. For this reasons more vigilance with food inspection is needed. Helmby predicts that more cases will occur in places like the United Kingdom where such infections have been virtually eliminated.
Gkrania – Klotsas said I’m confident there will be more of this in the future”, who already seen patients infected without having traveled abroad. Infection goes together with the people, wherever they are.
However people that are planning to travel, need greater awareness when visiting regions where infections are commonplace. This rise from infections can be controlled, if health teams will be ready for the consequences.
Helmby said “We need to be able to treat these infections. That’s the challenge at the moment.” A challenge where genetics researchers could prove invaluable, as their sequencing continues to reveal the secrets of these parasites.
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