Man's Appetite for Soft Bacon Leads to Brain Parasites

Case of pork tapeworm larvae infecting brain tissue described in new study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2024 9:40 AM CDT
Man's Appetite for Soft Bacon Leads to Attack on His Brain
Arrows point to tapeworm larval cysts in brain images.   (American Journal of Case Reports)

A Florida man who went to his doctor complaining his migraine medication wasn't touching his increasingly frequent and painful headaches was found to have parasitic tapeworm larvae in his brain. After four months of pain, a CT scan revealed fluid-filled sacs throughout the white matter of the 52-year-old's brain. These turned out to be larvae of the parasitic pork tapeworm Taenia solium, which can trigger headaches, seizures, or stroke, according to Medscape. The odd thing was the man didn't have the typical risk factors for the condition known as neurocysticercosis, per CNN. He hadn't visited high-risk areas, had close contact with pigs, or lived amid poor sanitation. But he did admit to a habit of eating undercooked bacon.

The man said he ate "lightly cooked, non-crispy bacon for most of his life," according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Case Reports. Doctors aren't sure, but they suspect the man got an intestinal tapeworm from eating undercooked bacon, then, due to improper handwashing, consumed tapeworm eggs excreted in his feces. After the eggs hatched, the young larvae likely passed into the bloodstream and took up residence in the man's brain, forming larval cysts. He was lucky in the sense that he suffered only headaches. As Live Science reports, up to 80% of patients experience seizures.

The man's headaches improved as he was successfully treated with anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic medication, including dexamethasone, albendazole, and praziquantel, the Guardian reports. The report notes that neurocysticercosis, which results in some 1,000 new hospitalizations in the US each year, can "easily be overlooked, especially if there is an underlying known neurological condition such as migraine." But authors stress the condition is preventable. They add cases of neurocysticercosis "outside of classic exposures or travel" are "very rare" and before now "thought to be nonexistent," per Live Science. (More parasites stories.)

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