Check out this medical image of a young man's head and you will notice that it is filled with white and gray spots. After conducting a study of these odd marks, the doctors found that men's organs were riddled with cysts caused by larvae of a parasitic tapeworm.
Writing in New England Journal of Medicine doctors from India report the case of an 18-year-old man who came to ESIC Medical College and Hospital in Faridabad after hitting an epileptic seizure. The doctors also reported that the young man was confused and suffering from swelling over his right eye and tenderness in the right testicle.
They performed magnetic resonance imaging of the head, revealing the presence of several cystic lesions through the outer layer of his brain. Blood samples later confirmed that these markings were the result of neurocysticercosis, a tissue infection caused by the larval form of Taenia solium bandworm.
"The attack usually occurs by the ingestion of tapeworm eggs," said Dr. Nishanth Dev, one of the doctors on the case, told IFLScience.
"The source of the egg may be anything like food or water contaminated with stools containing the eggs. Another source is the consumption of uncooked pork," he added.
"In our case, when the patient was a vegetarian, it was assumed that faecal contamination could have been the cause."
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that infections are mainly found in agricultural groups in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In these parts of the word, neurocysticercosis could account for almost one third of all seizures.
Presumably, WHO estimates that between 2.56 to 8.30 million people may suffer from cases of tapeworm infection and neurocysticercosis, although many people with tapeworm infection will show little to no symptoms. The doctors emphasize that this example is especially extreme.
"Yes, the burden of the attack was very high and involved several organs too," added Dr. Nishanth.
The severity of the case suggests that the man had been infected for some time; However, they could not identify when the infection occurred.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be very difficult to treat the young man. Anti-parasitic drugs can exacerbate inflammation and lead to a further build-up of water in the extracellular space of the brain. Because of the man's eye lesions, doctors were also aware that inflammation could lead to a total loss of vision. He was treated with antiepileptic drugs but died only two weeks later.