(Gray News) – A teenager in India died two weeks after showing up at an emergency room with seizures and groin pain, appearing confused and with swelling over his eye, in what turned out to be symptoms of a parasitic brain disease caused by a tapeworm.
The unsettling case was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, by two doctors, Nishanth Dev and S. Zafar Abbas, of the ESIC Medical College and Hopsital outside New Delhi.
According to the doctors, the 18-year-old had been having pain in his right groin for at least a week. An MRI revealed “numerous well-defined cystic lesions” throughout his brain.
He was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis, which the World Health Organization describes as a “tapeworm infection of the central nervous system.”
Infection is usually a result of “consuming undercooked food, particularly pork, or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs, or through poor hygiene practices.”
What happens, according to a 2004 paper in the journal Epilepsy Currents and published on the website for the National Center for Biotechnology, is that a person acquires a tapeworm through eating raw pork, for example, and the tapeworm lays eggs in their stool.
The eggs leave the person through feces, and “are ingested through fecal-oral contamination” by another person.
When the eggs are ingested and exposed to a person’s stomach acids, they hatch and cross the gastrointestinal tract, making their way into the vascular system, moving through critical parts of the body and forming the kinds of cysts that afflicted the Indian teenager.
In his case, with cysts in his brain and eye, doctors were not able to apply antiparasitic medications, which can worsen bleeding in the brain or cause loss of vision.
They used anti-inflammatory medication and antiseizure drugs, but were not able to save the teenager.
According to the Epilepsy Currents paper, neurocysticercosis is a leading cause of seizures and epilepsy in the developing world and on the rise in the United States.