Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tapeworm tales

A California man says he went to an emergency room with a terrible headache and nausea, slipped into a coma, and when he woke up doctors told him a tapeworm larvae had been living in his brain.

College student Luis Ortiz of Napa told the Napa Valley Register ( ) that doctors said he needed immediate surgery to remove the tapeworm.

Ortiz's neurosurgeon, Dr. Soren Singel, says the worm had formed in a cyst that was blocking the flow of water to chambers in the brain, "like a cork in a bottle."

He says another 30 minutes of that blockage and the 26-year-old Ortiz would have died.
Singel says tapeworm eggs likely made it into Ortiz's intestine from unwashed food and eventually the larvae made it into his brain.

Surgeons successfully removed a tapeworm from the brain of a British man who was suffering from headaches, seizures, memory issues and altered smell, reported.

The 50-year-old unidentified man was suffering from an infection caused by a rare species of tapeworm called Spirometra erinaceieuropaei, which is typically found in China, Japan South Korea and Thailand, according to the report.

An infection can occur when a person eats undercooked frogs or snakes, uses frog meat for treating wounds, or drinks contaminated water.

While tape worms usually live in the gut, causing a patient to suffer weight loss and abdominal pain, some are able to travel to the eyes, spinal cord and brain.

In a study published in the journal Genome Biology, researchers sequenced the genome of the tapeworm after it was extracted from the man’s brain, and pinpointed genes that provide drug resistance in patients battling the infection.

“The infection is so rare worldwide and completely unexpected in this country that the patient was not diagnosed … until the worm was pulled out from the brain,” Hayley Bennett, lead study author said in a news release.

“By comparing the genome to other tapeworms we can see that certain gene families are expanded – these possibly underpin this worm’s success in a large variety of host species,” Bennet said. “The data gave us a first look at a whole group of tapeworms that have not been sequenced before.”

The research team believes the gene study may help improve drug treatment for patients who contract the rare infection, reported.

A Colombian man's lung tumors turned out to have an extremely unusual cause: The rapidly growing masses weren't actually made of human cells, but were from a tapeworm living inside him, according to a report of the case.

This is the first known report of a person becoming sick from cancer cells that developed in a parasite, the researchers said.

"We were amazed when we found this new type of disease — tapeworms growing inside a person, essentially getting cancer, that spreads to the person, causing tumors," said study researcher Dr. Atis Muehlenbachs, a staff pathologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch (IDPB).

The man had HIV, which weakens the immune system and likely played a role in allowing the development of the parasite cancer, the researchers said. Although the man's case is probably a rare one, the researchers noted that both tapeworms and HIV affect millions of people worldwide, "so there may be more cases that are unrecognized," Muehlenbachs said. [10 Deadly Diseases That Hopped Across Species]

The 41-year-old man first went to doctors in Colombia after experiencing a fever, cough and weight loss for several months. The man had been diagnosed with HIV more than 10 years earlier, but was not taking his medications.

A CT scan showed tumors in his lung and lymph nodes, but biopsies of these tumors revealed bizarre cells, leading Colombian doctors to contact the CDC for assistance in diagnosing the man.

The cells, when examined under a microscope, acted like cancer cells — they multiplied quickly and crowded together. But the cells didn't appear to be human, they were 10 times smaller than human cancer cells.

After a number of tests, the researchers found DNA from a type of tapeworm called H. nana in the man's tumor. This result was surprising, the researchers said, because the cells did not look at all like tissue from a tapeworm. But further tests confirmed that the cells were indeed from H. nana.

The researchers hypothesized that, because the man had HIV, the tapeworm kept growing in the body, unchecked by the immune system. Eventually, mutations developed in the tapeworm's cells that turned the cells cancerous.

The patient died just 72 hours after researchers determined that the tumors were caused by H. nana.


  1. It sounds like something out of a horror movie. A man goes to the emergency room with a headache. After examining him, doctors find a worm in his brain.

    Unfortunately for Luis Ortiz of Napa, the story was all too real. Not only did the 26-year-old college student have a worm his brain, it almost killed him.

    Ortiz said his headaches began in late August. At the time, “I didn’t think much of it,” said Ortiz, who was attending Sacramento State. “I just ignored it.”

    During the first days of September, Ortiz visited a friend and his parents in Napa.

    He had been skateboarding on a warm day when the pain increased. He figured maybe he had a migraine or heatstroke, but as time went on, “it got worse,” he said.

    He went to his mother’s house where the pain intensified. “That’s where it gets kind of blurry for me,” he said.

    His mother said Ortiz appeared disoriented. He began to vomit. She rushed him to the Queen of the Valley Medical Center’s emergency department.

    At the hospital, Ortiz’s condition worsened and he became comatose. After performing scans and other tests, doctors put a drain in his brain to alleviate the pressure.

    When he regained consciousness, the doctors gave Ortiz the news. A tapeworm larvae had lodged itself in his brain, and he’d need immediate surgery to remove it.

    Ortiz is lucky he arrived at the Queen when he did, said his neurosurgeon, Dr. Soren Singel.

    The worm had formed in a cyst that was blocking the flow of water to chambers in the brain, “like a cork in a bottle,” Singel explained. Another 30 minutes of that blockage, and “he would have been dead,” he said. “It was a close call.”...

    Working at the Peggy Herman Neuroscience Center at the Queen of the Valley, Singel used a neuro endoscope, “like a fancy camera on a little stick the thickness of a spaghetti noodle,” for the brain surgery.

    “We made a hole in skull bone over the eyebrow and drove the camera into the center of the brain and fished out the cyst and the worm” using a grasping tool inside a scope. “The worm was still wiggling when we pulled it out,” said Singel.

    The worm itself was actually small – about 1/16 of an inch. The cyst that contained the worm was about 1/3 of an inch. Ortiz then started taking medication to kill any remaining worms in his body.

    Singel showed Ortiz the worm. “I was like, ‘That came out of me?’ It looked pretty gross,” said Ortiz.

    The surgery and the aftermath have greatly impacted his life, said Ortiz. He had to drop out of school, move back home and find a temporary home for his dog. He can’t drive or work.

  2. Four years ago, doctors saw a British man who had been complaining of headaches after visiting China, South Korea, Japan and Thailand. They treated him for tuberculosis, but when he returned, he exhibited a host of more bizarre symptoms, CNN reported.

    This time, in 2013, the man reported weakness in his legs and was also having seizures. After an examination, doctors determined the cause of his pain: Sparganosis, an infection that is rare outside of Asia and is caused by a parasite. In the case of the British patient, who was not named, the Spirometra tapeworm, which caused the infection, had burrowed into his brain and began feeding on his body.

    Surgeons at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge had to surgically remove the tapeworm from the man’s head because there is no known treatment for the condition.

    According to CNN, only 300 infections of the Spirometra tapeworm were recorded between 1953 and 2013, and little is known about its populations because they live in rural areas of the world.

  3. A Texas woman suffering from debilitating headaches after a trip to Mexico was stunned when she learned the source of her pain: tapeworms that had burrowed into her brain.

    Yadira Rostro, 31, of Garland, Texas, northeast of Dallas, recently visited Methodist Dallas Medical Center with headaches that were causing sight impairment for nearly nine months, Fox 8 reported. When doctors investigated her brain, they discovered sacs of larvae from eight tapeworm eggs that had been growing.

    Doctors expect Rostro to make a full recovery after removing the larvae. They suspect that the parasite found their way into the woman’s brain after she ate food contaminated with fecal matter during a trip to Mexico. reported that typically, the common parasite will go right through patients, but Rostro was simply unlucky. In her case, the critters invaded her bloodstream then traveled to her brain. The news station reported that as their eggs developed, fluid accumulated in her brain, leading to the headaches.

    "I think she’s just happy to be alive," Richard Meyrat, a neurosurgeon at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, told "Her headaches are gone, and she's feeling better.” Meyrat added that he’d never seen anything like Rostro’s case before.