When we eat, potential pathogen and parasite carriers are invited into our bodies. With them can come plus ones that can land you in hospital, and the full effects of their party-crashing can take years to become apparent.
This was the case for one man who suddenly began experiencing seizures in his late 30s. He had no history of seizures, but was found one night shaking on the floor and “talking nonsense”. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment, where it was noted that he seemed confused and kept involuntarily gazing at the ceiling. The case report was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Investigations led to a possible suspect: the tapeworm.
Brain scans and blood tests eventually confirmed the diagnosis, revealing the man's brain had become home to several lesions containing the worms. An infection with tapeworms is called cysticercosis, and while severe cases can have catastrophic effects on the body, they can go unnoticed for months, years, and – in this case – decades. In the paper, the doctors express that the infection most likely began 20 years before the patient’s presentation to the hospital. At this time, he was living in Guatemala, where tapeworm infections are present in urban and rural areas.
Fortunately, the patient was cleared of his unwelcome visitors, and three years later remained seizure-free.
Tapeworms can move from person to person through fecal matter and can be present in undercooked or unclean cuts of meat and fish. They are hermaphroditic, meaning a single egg can give rise to a brain-load of trouble as they reproduce asexually.
While they’re most commonly associated with the digestive system, as time goes by tapeworms can migrate around the body, setting up camp anywhere from your liver to your lungs and – yup – that big ole’ thinkbox of yours. In the worst affected areas, tapeworm infections can account for 30 to 70 percent of suspected epilepsy cases.
One symptom of cysticercosis is weight loss, which has seen some people commit to the “tapeworm diet” whereby they swallow a pill containing live eggs. These pills are banned by the Food and Drug Administration, and many available in the wrong corners of the internet are fake anyway.
If pain, malnutrition, and the possibility of a worm party in your brain aren’t enough reasons to steer well clear of the ineffective diet plan, may we present to you: