Tapeworms are generally thought to be found in your intestines. Growing as big as 50 feet long. They give me the goosebumps. They can also cause horrible gastrointestinal issues. But believe it or not, that's only one step of a larger infectious chain of tapeworm. They don't only cause stomach pain but they can also debilitate mental capacities if they find your way to your brain. What the?!
A brain tapeworms, or Neurocysticercosis (NCC) is a parasitic disease of the nervous system. Neuroimages show that they leave infected brains looking like apples that have been left out in the sun to rot. They are typically tapeworm infections or or Taeniasis, and is caused by a transmission between pigs and humans.
This happens from parasites from pork via undercooked meat. When contracted, the worms end up in the intestines where they can produce thousands of eggs which are intermittently shed through the feces. Swines ingest these larvae through food that has been tainted by feces. If they do, the eggs will hatch and burrow their way into the porcine's bloodstream, where they will lodge themselves into little blood vessels.
If a human eats this meat, the larvae end up in their blood, and could travel to the brain where they'll post up inside the ventricles and form cysts, a sign of NCC.
The symptoms are of such: these tapeworms can block the flow of brain fluid leading to hydrocephalus, or water in the brain. It can then lead to brain hernia, stroke, stupor, coma and even death. Sometimes, they go undetected for their entire life span.
Are they common? It's hard to tell because they are often misdiagnosed as another brain disorder. The real proof is in a combination of environmental evidence, and an MRI that will reveal hallmark holes. A piece in Discover Magazine, Theodore Nash, chief of the Gastrointestinal Parasites Section at the National Institute of Health, estimates that between 1,500-2,000 people in the U.S. have it. But that number could be much higher.
Discover notes that in the mid-80s, scientists developed praziquantel, a drug that can murder tapeworm larvae in the brain. The problem is that the treatment is too aggressive and can make the swelling even worse. Doctors like Nash are focusing on prevention by vaccinating pigs and giving medicine to people that have tapeworms in their intestines.
The problem is more common in third world countries, but one shouldn't be ignorant about the condition. All you have to do is make sure you don't eat undercooked meat. [Discover Magazine, eMedicine, CDC] Image credit: Theodore Nash/Discover Magazine