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What to know about pork tapeworms in the brain, after RFK Jr. said he got a parasitic infection

By 37ci3 May9,2024

The little-known parasitic infection of the brain drew attention Wednesday when presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he once suffered from it.

A condition known as neurocysticercosis is a brain infection associated with pork tapeworm larvae. Rare: Hospitalizes about 1,000 to 2,000 people in the United States each year.

Neurocysticercosis causes seizures, headaches, blindness, blurred vision, dizziness, psychosis, or memory loss. In some cases, it can even be fatal.

Infection usually follows the following sequence of events: People eat raw or undercooked pork carrying tapeworms. They then shed tapeworm eggs in their feces and contaminate food or surfaces without washing their hands. As a result, they or bystanders who ate that food or touched those surfaces accidentally ingested tapeworm eggs.

After being swallowed, the eggs develop into larvae that can travel through the gut to the brain. The larvae form fluid-filled pockets or cysts that look like small, clear balloons about a centimeter in diameter.

Dr., professor of infectious diseases at the Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Eggs are “the real glue,” Clinton White said. “They get on people’s hands and under their fingernails. In my opinion, hand-to-mouth transmission is an important way.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the condition is generally poorly understood by health care providers. considers neurocysticercosis to be an “indifferent parasitic infection”.

“It’s an important disease and it’s often overlooked,” White said.

on wednesday The New York Times reported that Kennedy, who was running for president as an independent, once had a parasitic brain infection.

Kennedy campaign press secretary Stephanie Spear said in a statement in response to the Times article: “Mr. In his environmental work, Kennedy traveled extensively in Africa, South America, and Asia, and it was during one of these places that he became infected with the parasite. The matter was resolved more than 10 years ago and he is in good physical and mental health.”

Kennedy said in a 2012 statement that two years ago, doctors discovered an abnormal spot in his brain amid symptoms of memory loss and mental fogginess, according to the Times. Kennedy told the Times that one of the doctors concluded it was caused by a worm that entered his brain and then died.

NBC News could not immediately verify the details of the Times report.

The Times also said Kennedy did not know what type of parasite he had. However, in interview on an internet radio show Pushing the limitetc” on Wednesday, Kennedy told host Brian Shapiro that the infection was neurocysticercosis and that the parasite was “caused by eating undercooked pork.”

Among tapeworms, pork tapeworms are most commonly associated with brain infections.

Doctors in Florida in March Published a case study about a 52-year-old man who developed severe migraines from neurocysticercosis. There was a man he ate undercooked pork most of his lifeso the doctors assumed that he had eaten pork tapeworm, shed the tapeworm eggs, and then swallowed them, which led to the infection in his brain.

Larval cysts from neurocysticercosis often live in the brain for about 5 to 10 years. As they begin to die, the body’s immune system attacks them, and the inflammation can lead to epileptic seizures or a life-threatening brain tumor. Some cases of neurocysticercosis are asymptomatic.

It causes neurocysticercosis in countries where pig tapeworms are endemic about 30% of all epilepsy casesAccording to the World Health Organization.

“It’s a major neurological infection worldwide,” White said.

“Most US cases are imported,” he said. “They are in endemic areas, particularly in rural areas, such as in Mexico, or in people who are infected in Central or South America.”

The infection is also endemic Southeast Africa and some parts of Asia.

Neurocysticercosis is becoming more commonly diagnosed in the U.S., likely because doctors are becoming more aware of it, White said.

“It’s probably the most problematic parasitic disease in this country,” he said.

Although symptoms may resolve on their own without any treatment, some patients may require anticonvulsant drugs or a combination of steroids and antiparasitic drugs. In severe cases, patients may require surgery to remove the cysts.

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By 37ci3

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