Man in China Contracts Brain Parasite After Eating Hot Pot Pork Meat Stew

The man was discovered to have tapeworm larvae in his brain.

A man in China ended up with tapeworm larvae in his brain after eating a hot pot meal that was likely undercooked, according to news reports.

The 46-year-old man, who lives in the eastern province of Zhejiang, went to the hospital after developing neurological symptoms, including headaches, dizziness and epilepsy-like episodes of limb twitching and foaming at the mouth, according to The Washington Post. The man told doctors that, about a month before his symptoms started, he had eaten pork and mutton in a home-made hot pot meal.

Doctors at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University Medical College performed an MRI, which showed he had multiple lesions in his brain.

He was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis, a parasitic disease that occurs when a person ingests microscopic eggs from a pork tapeworm (Taenia solium). When the eggs hatch, the larvae can travel throughout the body, including to the brain, muscles, skin and eyes, where they form cysts, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Doctors suspect that the man had purchased meat tainted with tapeworm larvae, and that he didn’t cook it well enough to kill those larvae, the Post reported. Indeed, the man said he “only simmered the meat a little,” according to CNN.

Images: Left: Taenia egg at a high magnification of 400x. When consumed by humans, Taenia solium eggs can lead to cysticercosis, including a serious condition known as neurocysticercosis. Center: A radiographic image of the brain of a patient who has neurocysticercosis; the small dark spots within the brain are larval cysts of T. solium. Right: A cross-section through a T. solium cyst from a human brain tissue specimen, stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). (Credit (L to R): Westchester Medical Center, PHIL, DPDx.)

Cysticercosis is a parasitic tissue infection caused by larval cysts of the tapeworm Taenia solium. These larval cysts infect brain, muscle, or other tissue, and are a major cause of adult onset seizures in most low-income countries. A person gets cysticercosis by swallowing eggs found in the feces of a person who has an intestinal tapeworm.  People living in the same household with someone who has a tapeworm have a much higher risk of getting cysticercosis than people who don’t. People do not get cysticercosis by eating undercooked pork.  Eating undercooked pork can result in intestinal tapeworm if the pork contains larval cysts.  Pigs become infected by eating tapeworm eggs in the feces of a human infected with a tapeworm.

Both the tapeworm infection, also known as taeniasis, and cysticercosis occur globally. The highest rates of infection are found in areas of Latin America, Asia, and Africa that have poor sanitation and free-ranging pigs that have access to human feces. Although uncommon, cysticercosis can occur in people who have never traveled outside of the United States. For example, a person infected with a tapeworm who does not wash his or her hands might accidentally contaminate food with tapeworm eggs while preparing it for others.

In the United States, cysticercosis is considered one of the Neglected Parasitic Infections (NPIs), a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action.

This tapeworm is common in developing nations, including countries in Latin America, Africa or Asia. Neurocysticercosis is one of the most common causes of seizures around the world.

The illness can be life-threatening and even fatal. Earlier this year, doctors in India reported the case of a teen with severe neurocysticercosis who died from the illness.

In the current case, the man received treatment to eliminate the tapeworms and reduce pressure in his brain, the Post reported, and he made a full recovery.

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Henry Sapiecha

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