With eating this common food, worms can invade your brain. Once they are consumed and enter your organism, they can move throughout your body– your eyes, your tissues, and most commonly your brain. It is true that it is a classic parasite, however a harmful one and it can get into your head.
Dr. Effrossyni Gkrania-Klotsas said that while examining the head of a British man in 2013 they found a tapeworm. Until then they had never seen this tapeworm in the UK.
The team of doctors at Addenbrookes Hospital at Cambridge, 4 years before that, had a patient– a man with first experienced symptoms, such as headaches. But after a short period of time the patient returned. This patient, a Chinese descent who had recently visited China, which along with Thailand, Japan and South Korea, had most of the regular occurrences of the parasite called Spirometra erinaceieuropaei.
Gkrania– Klotsas said “When the patient returned, he had all new signs”. The worm was now pressing through to a new part of his brain. It started causing weakness in his legs and seizures. In fact, the condition associated was the infection Sparganosis. Upon diagnosis doctors had to be quick to remove the worm surgically, since there is no known drug to successfully treat the infection.
300 infections of the Spirometra tapeworm were recorded in the period between 1953 and 2013. Infections are believed to be more common among the population that has very little knowledge about worms, in some parts of Asia.
Geneticist from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in Cambridge, Dr.Hayley Bennett whose team recently sequenced the genome of the uncommon worm, said “These worms are some of the most mysterious worms we have researched “. They understand that this life cycle is more complicated.
The kind of the Spirometra tapeworm adult only occurs in the intestines of dogs and cats but as these animals shed they excrete the worm’s eggs in their feces, and the eggs can enter, and infect the water. The resulting juvenile form of tapeworm the larvaecan then stay in the water within certain little crustaceans for a long period of time or it can easily end up in snakes and frogs.
Through direct contact with infected animals or ingestion, these larvae can invade people. According to Gkrania– Klotsas, they had a patient in Cambridge who had accidentally drunk water whilst swimming in a contaminated lake.
Bennett said “The larvae can encyst in the brain or any other place in the body”. These cysts can cause loss of sight, paralysis, tissue damage or even death. Bennett hoped to understand these sequencing from the worm’s genes and the inner working of the worms to help future treatment and diagnosis.
Creating a drug just for this worm isn’t economically viable, because it is a really rare infection, however by comparing it to other similar tapeworms the researchers can see which other drugs might apply.
They extracted small samples of the worm from the infected patient, which could function as future drug target as well as help recognize resistance to drugs. They will identify an exceptionally big genes and genome from these little samples. Bennett includes “You could also develop a diagnostic test”.
The tapeworm can be discovered in many types of forms however 3 of them can easily contaminate 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 “.
Humans can be infected by the pork species, Taenia Solium in two ways:
- The first form of infection– is by consuming undercooked pork from infected pigs, leading to taenias — an adult worm living in the intestine.
- The second form of infections– is in the larval type, through contact with the feces of an infected human or pig, which can go further on infecting many tissues. It can result in a condition called neurocysticercosis if the larval worm goes into the nervous system, including the brain. This kind of infection can often cause epilepsy once inside the brain. The World Health Organization stated on this matter that nearly a 1/3 of epilepsy cases in countries where the disease is native are people who were formerly contaminated by neurocysticercosis.
With poor hygiene and sanitation Neurocysticercosis infection flourishes. Helmby stated “In fact, you can actually infect yourself,” as poor hygiene, such as failing to wash your hands, could result in you consuming the eggs of an adult worm living in your intestine. “Self-infection is common.”
Nevertheless, with increasing numbers across Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to the World Health Organization, the worldwide distribution of pork tapeworms is widespread. Gkrania– Klotsas has three patients in her care in Cambridge who have previously experienced neurocysticercosis.
Cause for concern?
The treatment for Spirometra has been surgical until now, however, in Cambridge, Bennett’s group discovered some drugs, such as praziqantil, that could be extremely effective. These drugs are used against schistosomiasis (snail fever). Also, certain drugs 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 worried both Helmby and Gkrania– Klotsas. With the fast development of the food export and import, the risks of ingesting contaminated products have actually increased. This is only one more reason why more vigilance with food inspection is needed. Helmby predicts more cases occurring in places where such infections have been virtually eliminated, like the UK.
Gkrania– Klotsas said: “I’m positive there will be more of this in the future”, who has already seen patients infected without even going abroad. The infection goes together with people, anywhere they are.
Nevertheless, they suggest to people that are planning to travel, to be more careful when visiting areas where infections are commonplace. The increasing number of infections can be controlled, if health teams are going to be ready for the consequences.
Helmby stated “The challenge at the moment is to be able to treat these infections.” A challenge where genetics researchers could prove vital, as their sequencing continues to unveil the secrets of these mysterious parasites.