Written By Admin
Friday, May 6, 2016
If you don’t want worms to invade your brain, don’t eat this food! If they get into your body, the worms will eventually find their way to your major organ, including the brain. These worms are a dangerous parasite that can have fatal consequences! They were noticed when Dr. Effrossyni Gkrania-Klotsas examined one man’s head during an exam. The tapeworm that was inside his head was a type of worm that was never before seen in the UK!
Four years earlier, the team at Addenbrookes Hospital at Cambridge examined a man for his headaches. He came back for tests after a short time with new symptoms. The patient had previously travelled to China, a country which had most cases of the parasite known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei along Thailand, Japan and South Korea. “When the patient returned, he had all new symptoms”, says Dr. Klotsas. The worm was finding its way to a new part of the brain, causing symptoms such as weakness in the legs and seizures besides his headaches. The infection that caused his troubles was Sparganosis, a parasitic infection caused by the plerocercoid larvae of diphyllobothroid tapeworms belonging to the genus Spirometra. When the doctors diagnosed him with the infection, they had to immediately remove the worm surgically, as the infection cannot be treated by any known drugs.
Only 300 Spirometra infections were registered between 1953 and 2013. They mostly occur in parts of Asia populated by people that has almost no knowledge of tapeworms. This type of the Spirometra tapeworm typically occurs in the intestines of animals such as dogs and cats. The animals then excrete the worm’s eggs through their feces, and the eggs eventually enter and contaminate water sources. The larvae then stay in the water for a long time until they end up in other animals such as snakes or frogs. People can infect themselves with direct contact with an animal that has the Spirometra tapeworm in its body. Dr. Klotsas says that she recently had a patient who infected himself unknowingly by drinking water from a contaminated source.
Bennett said that the Spirometra larvae can encyst the brain and other body parts and organs, causing blindness, paralysis, tissue damage and can even be fatal. Through research on the worm’s genes and internal functions, he hoped to find a way to cure the infection.
As the infection is rare, creating a drug which will cure it is not practical, but by comparing the Spirometra tapeworm to other tapeworms, the medical experts can see what other drugs can work. They extracted pieces of the tapeworm from the patient and hope to discover its resistance to drugs. They also hope that the research can be of great importance in the future. They will try to identify large genes and genome from these small pieces.
Of all the tapeworm types, only 3 can infect the brain. According to Helena Helmby from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the pork tapeworm is the main culprit for infecting the brain.
There are two form of infections with the pork tapeworm by which humans can be infected:
The first form of infection is by consuming underdone pork from pigs that were infected by the tapeworm. This results in taeniasis, when an adult worm resides in the intestine.
The second form of infection that can occur is the larvae form. It can be contracted by direct contact with animal feces. This can cause neurocysticercosis, a condition when the larval worm infests the nervous system and the brain. This kind of infection is very dangerous, as it can cause epilepsy. The WHO (World Health Organisation) claims that a third of all epilepsy cases in areas where the infections is native are caused by neurocysticercosis.
Neurocysticercosis thrives in areas with poor hygiene and sanitation. According to Helmby, poor hygiene can result in infecting yourself by consuming the eggs of the adult worm that lives in the intestine. “It is a common self-infection”, she says.
Although the infection is more common in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the global distribution of pork tapeworms is rising – Dr. Klotsas has already had three neurocysticercosis patients in her care at Cambridge.
The treatment for the Spirometra tapeworm includes surgery. Bennett’s team have found a drug, praziqantil, that can be effective. This drug is commonly used to treat schistosomiasis (snail fever). Some cancer drugs have also proven to be effective. Anthelminthic drugs are targeting the worm as well.
Both Helmby and Dr. Gkrania-Klotsas are very concerned about the increased global food trade and international travel and the potential risk they bring. The risk of eating infected products has skyrocketed as the food export and import rises. This is only one reason why strict food inspections are required. Helmby expects more cases in the UK, where the infection was previously eradicated.
Helmby and Gkrania-Klotsas are emphasizing that people must be more aware of the infection when visiting regions where the infection is common. The infection can be defeated with proper hygiene and global awareness. “We need to be able to treat these infections, that’s the challenge at the moment”, Helmby says. It is a challenge where genetic research could be priceless, as the research on the genes is uncovering the secrets of the deadly parasite.