Surgeons at a hospital in Cambridge reportedly removed a tapeworm from the brain of a man after it had been living inside him for four years.
According to reports, the man suddenly started exhibiting strange symptoms back in 2008 and explained to doctors that he was suffering frequent headaches and a change in his sense of smell. A number of different tests were done on him to no avail, and unfortunately, the symptoms continued to worsen.
Finally, in 2012, after lesions had already been discovered on his brain in a previous MRI, doctors found the remains of a tapeworm in his brain tissue and quickly diagnosed him with the parasite, known as spirometra erinaceieuropaei. The occurrence of this parasite generally causes people to suffer from memory loss, seizures and headaches as a result of tissue inflammation.
The exact cause of the rare infection is not known, but doctors believe that his frequent travels to foreign countries may have been the reason he picked up the parasite in the first place.
“We did not expect to see an infection of this kind in the UK, but global travel means that unfamiliar parasites do sometimes appear,” said Dr. Effrossyni Gkrania-Klotsas of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. “We can now diagnose sparganosis using MRI scans, but this does not give us the information we need to identify the exact tapeworm species and its vulnerabilities.
"Our work shows that, even with only tiny amounts of DNA from clinical samples, we can find out all we need to identify and characterize [sic] the parasite. This emphasizes just how important a global database of worm genomes is to allow us to identify the parasite and determine the best course of treatment. Additionally, this information can be paired with our work in global travellers' infection to give additional insights in what infections other patients can get in specific destinations.”
Dr. Hayley Bennett of the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute added that the particular worm found inside the man’s brain usually doesn’t attach itself to humans.
“This worm is quite mysterious and we don’t know everything about what species it can infect or how,” said Bennett. “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.”
The man reportedly made a full recovery, and his case was recently documented in the Genome Biology journal.