Zhu Zhong-fa, 43, of China, went to the hospital for a persistent headache that lasted over a month, but when doctors scanned his brain they found he had hundreds of tapeworms living there.
The man from Hangzhou arrived at the First Affiliated Hospital of College of Medicine at Zhejiang University complaining of recurring head pain as well as seizures, News 18 reported. His local doctors had been unable to diagnose him, so the staff at the hospital did an MRI of his brain, which revealed damage caused by worms.
He was placed under the care of Dr. Wang Jian-rong from the hospital’s infectious disease department. Additional scans revealed even more worms in other parts of Zhu’s upper body.
“There are multiple presences of space-occupying lesions in the patient’s brain,” Dr. Wang said to Pear Video. “It’s also in the lungs and fills up the muscles inside the chest cavity.”
When asked if he recalled having consumed any undercooked meat, Zhu mentioned a hot pot he’d eaten about a month ago that he felt unsure about.
Tapeworm eggs are carried in the feces of infected animals and are microscopic. They can grow to worms as long as 26 feet and produce as many as 50,000 eggs in their lifetime.
The eggs can be killed by cooking them to 145 degrees Fahrenheit or freezing them for a minimum of 24 hours. But when viable eggs do enter the body through the mouth, they typically settle in the intestines, where they have a large amount of nutrients to feed on. However, as they reproduce, the worms can move farther afield in the body in search of sustenance.
The larvae create protective cysts around themselves as they grow. When the larvae move on, the cysts decay and cause infections that can trigger seizures, headaches and personality changes. Anthelmintic drugs are used to kill the larvae in the brain, but there is no remedy for the damage done by their presence.
The condition, called neurocysticercosis, is more common in developing countries where sanitary facilities are not as robust. It is the most prevalent infection of the central nervous system worldwide. The parasite has been virtually eradicated in the United States, with the vast majority of the 1,000 cases a year here that require hospitalization being in individuals who emigrated from other parts of the world.