Teen Has Seizures and Dies, Then Doctors Find Tapeworm Eggs in His Body

August 28, 2019 Updated: August 30, 2019

Thinking about ordering your meat rare and bloody, or pink all the way through? Think again! As many people know, undercooked meat, especially pork, can be very dangerous. But we often forget just how dramatic the consequences can be, since many Americans don’t know anyone who has ever actually gotten sick from this.

But a recent case from India should serve as a warning for all of us about the real risks of rare meat.

The unidentified 18-year-old teenager had been complaining to his parents about pain in his groin area for several days when they took him to the hospital. In addition to the pain he had been experiencing, the young man had also suffered from seizures and a swollen eye, which impaired his vision.

While doctors did everything they could to stabilize the patient, within a couple of weeks, he had died. How could an otherwise healthy young man, whose body and immune system should have been at their peak, suddenly collapse and crumble?

The answer was neurocysticercosis, a very long name for a simple condition—tapeworms. The teen had consumed pork that wasn’t properly handled and cooked and that had parasites in it. When he ate the pork, the eggs went on to hatch inside of his body.

The study of Tapeworm infection is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae in laboratory. (Illustration – Shutterstock | Rattiya Thongdumhyu)

But the vector for the disease isn’t just pork that hasn’t been cooked enough. It’s much, much worse than that. In order for the tapeworm to get in the pork in the first place, it had to come from another person. The only probable means of communication is through fecal contamination.

This means that the pig either consumed human waste, which can be the case in some developing countries where proper sanitation is lacking, or that someone who handled the meat failed to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.

Regardless of the vector in this specific case, the results were devastating for the unnamed boy. As CNN Health explained, “the larvae crawl out of the eggs and into muscle and brain tissues, where they form cysts. The doctors also discovered cysts in the patient’s right eye and right testis.”

The difficulty of treating the patient results from the fact that there are so many cysts and they lodge in such sensitive places. While doctors would naturally want to give the patient anti-parasitic medication, these have the downside of potentially causing internal bleeding and swelling.

If this occurs in the brain, than the patient could go into a coma and become vegetative. Unfortunately, the anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure medication that doctors gave the teen could only go so far.

Illustration – Shutterstock | bhanupong chooarun

Thankfully, most Americans won’t be likely to be exposed to these tapeworms at home but should still be vigilant. As Dr. Bridget Dowd, a pediatric GI specialist, told Inside Edition, “In the U.S., it’s very uncommon.”

Dr. Dowd explains that pork tapeworms are “more endemic in other parts of the world, like India, Asia, Latin America. And the cases that do occur in the U.S. are typically from either immigrants or people who have traveled and become infected and then come back and infect others that are around them.”

What can people do to safeguard themselves from these deadly worms? As Dr. Dowd says, “for a whole cut of either beef or pork, you should be cooking it to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius).” With proper cooking temperature and good hygiene, there’s little risk, but taking precautions is vital. Better safe than sorry!

Tapeworm in human intestine. 3D rendering. Tapeworms are a species of parasitic flatworms. They live in the digestive tracts of vertebrates. (Illustration – Shutterstock | Juan Gaertner)