Teenager dies of tapeworm egg infestation in his brain

An 18-year-old in India who was suffering from a severe tapeworm infection died not long after being diagnosed with the condition, according to a case study published by Drs. Nishanth Dev and S. Zafar Abbas in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.

The unidentified teen was brought to the emergency room at ESIC Medical College and Hospital in Faridabad, India, with generalized tonic-clonic seizures, which cause a patient to lose consciousness and experience muscle stiffness. The episodes usually last one to three minutes but can go on as long as five.

Dev and Abbas noted the teenager had swelling over his right eye and soreness in his right testis. His parents confirmed that their son had been suffering pain on the right side of his groin for approximately one week. 

An MRI performed on the patient revealed damage caused by cysts in his cerebral cortex and his brain stem consistent with neurocysticercosis, a parasitic infection caused by larval cysts (enclosed sacs containing the immature stage of a parasite) of the pork tapeworm.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these larval cysts can infect various parts of the body causing a condition known as cysticercosis. When they infect the brain, they cause a form of cysticercosis called neurocysticercosis, which can lead to seizures.

An ultrasound later revealed well-defined cysts were also present in the teen's eye and right testis.

Due to the severity of the patient's infection, doctors decided not to administer anti-parasitic medications in fear they would worsen the inflammation or cause a loss of vision. Instead, the teen was treated with dexamethasone (a steroid) and antiepileptic drugs. The combination proved ineffective and the patient died two weeks later.

The CDC classifies neurocysticercosis as a preventable disease. According to the organization, good hand washing practices and treating people infected with intestinal tapeworms could drastically reduce the number of new infections.

Although it is most common in developing countries where pigs roam freely and sanitation practices are poor, there are an estimated 1,000 new hospitalizations for neurocysticercosis in the United States each year.

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