Breaking: CNN – Worms Can Invade Your Brain from Eating This Common Food
Parasitic worm normally found in amphibians and crustaceans in China may have scavenged nutrients from patient’s brain.
A man who went to see his doctor after suffering headaches and experiencing strange smells was found to have been living for more than four years with a rare parasitic worm in his brain.
Doctors were left baffled after spotting strange ring-like patterns moving 5cm through his brain tissue in a series of scans taken over four years.
Geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge found the creature was a rare species of tapeworm known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei.
The worm is normally found in amphibians and crustaceans in China and as it goes through its life cycle it later infects the guts of cats and dogs, where it can grow into 1.5-metre adult worms. Even in China, where the parasite is normally found, there have only been 1,000 cases reported in humans since 1882.
The unfortunate patient, who was of Chinese descent but lived in East Anglia, is thought to have picked up the parasite while on a visit to China. However, exactly how he came to be infected is not known, but he could have picked it up from infected meat or water and the worm then burrowed through his body to his brain.
Now scientists believe they have been able to learn new information about this rare parasite after studying its DNA.
Rather than living on the brain tissue of its unknowing victim, the parasite is thought to have simply absorbed nutrients from the man’s brain through its body as the worm has no mouth.
Dr Hayley Bennett said they hoped to use the result of the study to help diagnose infections in humans more quickly in the future and even find ways of treating it.
“This worm is quite mysterious and we don’t know everything about what species it can infect or how. Humans are a rare and accidental host. for this particular worm. It remains as a larva throughout the infection. We know from the genome that the worm has fatty acid binding proteins that might help it scavenge fatty acids and energy from its environment, which may be one the mechanisms for how it gets its food”.
Surgeons managed to successfully remove the worm, which they found was a benign version.
Had it been a more aggressive type, it could have laid eggs, which then feed off the brain as they grow.
To identify the exact species of worm, surgeons at Addenbrooke’s NHS Trust in Cambridge, sequenced one particular gene.
The so-called ‘barcode of life’ revealed the parasite was the more benign of the two sparganosis-causing creature.
But their research found the worm was resistant to current anti-tapeworm drugs and as more people travel to exotic destinations, the risk of becoming infected increases.