Boston Man Diagnosed with Tapeworms in His Brain After He Was Hospitalized for Seizures

The man had cysticercosis, a tapeworm infection that affects the brain, muscle and other tissues

brain scan
Brain imaging. Photo: Getty

A man living in Boston — who medical personnel say was otherwise in good health — was diagnosed with a tapeworm infection after experiencing mysterious seizures.

According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Nov. 11, the horrifying series of events unfolded when the man, 38, began behaving strangely one night while at home with his wife.

His wife called police, explaining that her husband fell out of bed at around 4 a.m. and was on the floor "shaking," the study reveals. An exact timeline was not made clear in the study.

The article states that the man was "confused" and "speaking gibberish." When officials arrived at the home, the man was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital where he was treated for seizures. The study states that the man was "combative," "disoriented" and continued to exhibit strange behavior.

The man's "altered mental status" and seizures came as a shock as he "had not been ill recently and had no history of seizures or cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, or neurologic disorders," according to the study.

Doctors also note in the study that the man "rarely" drank alcohol or used tobacco and other illicit drugs.

With no known cause of the seizures, doctors performed a neurologic exam, laboratory testing and looked at cerebral imaging.

The medical team was then able to come up with a diagnosis — cysticercosis, a tapeworm infection that affects the brain, muscle, and other tissues. It is often spread by contact with tapeworm-infected human feces, contaminated food, water and dirty hands. It can cause lumps under the skin and when spread to the brain or spinal cord, an infected person may experience headaches and seizures.

Doctors explain in the study that the disease is "indolent," meaning it can go unnoticed because "because the eggs form cysts that do not generate a clinically significant immune response for approximately 5 years."

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A similar incident was observed in the 1930s in former soldiers who returned to England after serving in India, according to the study. Patients experienced an "inflammatory response" years after the initial exposure.

While it is not immediately clear how long the man has been infected, doctors explain in the journal article that he emigrated from a "rural area" of Guatemala," prompting researchers to "consider endemic infectious diseases that could have increased this patient's risk for seizures even years after exposure, such as a parasitic brain infection."

Following the diagnosis, the patient was admitted to the neurosciences intensive care unit where his lactic acid level and white-cell count were both normalized. He also under went Levetiracetam therapy — medicine used to treat epilepsy — to control the seizures. He was later transferred to the neurology unit where he underwent a two-week treatment of tapeworm medicine along with four weeks of another high-dose parasite solution.

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