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This Woman's "Electric Shock" Feeling In Her Legs Turned Out To Be Something Much Worse

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Dr. Katie Spalding

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Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

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Last year, a woman in France noticed she was finding horse riding more difficult than she used to. She was 35, had never left the country, and the most exotic animals she had contact with were the local cows. But amazingly, that unremarkable change turned out to be a symptom of a far more gruesome problem.

Over the next three months, she noticed her symptoms progressing. Her legs became weaker, and she started experiencing weird "electric shock" sensations running down them. She kept falling down. At this point, unsurprisingly, she decided to go to the emergency room.

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After a physical exam confirmed reduced sensitivity and movement in her legs and feet, and blood tests showed clear markers of some kind of infection or inflammation, her doctors at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Dijon gave her an MRI scan. And this is where the story turns grim.

The woman's MRI scan, showing the cause of her illness. (NEJM)

The scan showed what the doctors describe in their report for the New England Journal of Medicine as "a lobulated lesion of the 9th thoracic vertebra with an epidural component" – in other words, a lumpy ... thing in and around part of her spine. The treatment was drastic: surgeons removed the lesion, taking the vertebra and surrounding area with it, and gave her surgical implants in the rest of her spine. And then they found out what the problem was.

The lesion, it turned out, was caused by a tapeworm called Echinococcus granulosus. This parasite usually likes to live in dogs, although other animals such as sheep, cows, camels, and even kangaroos can serve as intermediate hosts. It generally doesn't like to live in humans, we represent a dead-end as we don't often pass parasites down to our pets, but that doesn't mean we're safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that humans are often exposed to the parasite by petting infected dogs, or eating plants grown in contaminated soil. When E. granulosus infects a human host it causes a disease called cystic echinococcosis, or CE, where slow-growing masses develop in organs such as the liver and lungs, as well as the central nervous system and – as the doctors in Dijon discovered – the bones.

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Luckily for the woman, the treatment worked: as well as the surgery, she received an antiparasitic to get rid of the tapeworm, and, nine months later, has no residual symptoms of her ordeal. 

Your spine isn't the only place a parasite can take hold. How would you like one crawling around under your face? Would you have the stomach to pull them out of your eyes? And if you get one, you'd better keep it healthy, for your own sake.

[H/T Live Science]


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