Many years ago, my husband and I had gone for dinner to a close friend. There was another guest, a young girl of 18. While we sat around the table talking, suddenly she shrieked and fainted. We panicked and rang up her mother. The girl regained consciousness after several minutes and asked us what we were doing in her house. She had complete amnesia. After getting up to drive us all away, she fainted again. By then her mother came and she was taken home and the doctor called. When I rang up her mother in the morning she told me that the girl’s right arm was paralysed for an hour and she had been taken for an MRI. A few days later it was established that she had a cyst in her brain caused by the pork tapeworm. For three years after that she was on medication.
In newspapers, I read about Mohammed Hasseb, a barber from Faizabad. He was admitted to the Sion Hospital, Mumbai with severe headaches and blurred vision. The doctors found 400 cysts in his skull. Each cyst contained thousands of tapeworms and had to be cut out carefully because if the liquid had leaked out, more cysts would be formed, killing the person.
There are two kinds of tapeworm infections: those created by the Echinococcus granulosus worms-and those caused by Taenia solium as in tennis player Leander Paes’ case. Both are caused by eating meat. Cysticercosis and Taeniasis are two kinds of infections caused by Taenia solium, a tapeworm normally found in the meat of pigs. Though pork is the main carrier, you can get infected from the meat of sheep and goats as well. A recent WHO study showed that 10 per cent of sheep slaughtered in Delhi are infected with tapeworms and the percentage is much higher in Mumbai.
Cysticercosis occurs when Taenia solium eggs enter the stomach through infected meat or water contaminated with infected human fecal material. Once inside the stomach, the tapeworm egg hatches. The larvae of the tapeworm, called cysticerci or bladder worms, then penetrate the intestine, and migrate into the skeletal muscles, heart, eyes, brain and spinal cord. Once there, they form small cysts containing the worm. In muscles, cysts create nodules under the skin and cause swelling. If cysts form in the eye, they can impair vision and can cause blindness by floating in the eye and detachment of the retina. Lesions in the heart can lead to abnormal heat beat rates or heart failure.
There are two kinds of tapeworm infections: those created by the Echinococcus granulosus worms-and those caused by Taenia solium as in tennis player Leander Paes’ case. Both are caused by eating meat. Cysticercosis and Taeniasis are two kinds of infections caused by Taenia solium, a tapeworm normally found in the meat of pigs. Though pork is the main carrier, you can get infected from the meat of sheep and goats as well.
Formation of cysts in the brain or spinal cord is called Neurocysticercosis. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Parasitic Diseases, “neurocysticercosis is symptomised by, epileptic fits, seizures, and headaches. However, confusion, memory loss, lack of attention to people and surroundings, difficulty with balance, hydrocephalus or swelling of the brain may also occur. Death can occur suddenly with heavy infections.” The symptoms can occur months to years after infection. Often, there are few symptoms. Neurocysticercosis is difficult to diagnose in its early stage and may be apparent only when the first neurological symptoms start, or when a CT scan, or a MRI of the brain is performed for other reasons. The first thing a doctor who suspects it will ask is whether you eat meat and specifically pork? While there is anti-parasite treatment for early cases, sometimes it is just too late or surgery, as in the young girl’s case, cannot be performed because the cyst is in a very delicate area of the brain.
The decision of whether or not to surgically treat neurocysticercosis is based upon the number of cysts found in the brain. When only one lesion is found, often treatment is not given as if a hard shell has formed around the tapeworm larvae, they are considered dead. Cysticercosis is not spread from person to person. But a person who is infected with Taeniasis will shed tapeworm eggs in their faeces and if these are eaten by scavengers or contaminate water, then the cycle starts again. Even cattle meat is infected with Taenia saginata or Beef tapeworm. Both the pork and the beef tapeworm infections are widespread in Asia and Africa and on the increase in Europe.
The International Task Force for Disease Eradication (ITFDE) is a group of scientists who were convened by a secretariat at the Carter Center of Emory University during 1989-1992. The purpose of the ITFDE was to establish criteria and apply them systematically to evaluate the potential eradicability of diseases. The ITFDE put Cysticercosis as one of its 6 main international public health problems. Cysticercosis affects an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Endemic areas include Mexico and Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa , India, and East Asia. It is a leading cause of epileptic seizures worldwide. 50,000 people die of this disease annually.
The best way to avoid Cysticercosis is to avoid eating pork and other meats. All pork in India is from pigs that roam around wild in the slums of the cities. They usually feel very hot and cool off by sitting in filthy pools of feces contaminated stagnant water. They are never fed; they eat at the garbage dumps and from the open drains that carry human feces, blood, vomit, sweat and saliva. Since it takes 11 kilos of input to produce one kilo of meat, by the time they are caught by the local residents and killed by trussing them up and repeatedly stabbing them to death, their bodies are full of tapeworms which are passed onto you in the pork. No meat shops have refrigeration. No meat shops have heard of cleanliness or even proper disposal of meat or blood. It goes into the same sewers that more pigs will eat from. Look at your local slaughterhouse, live and dead animals standing knee deep in blood, butchers spitting and urinating on them, the blood flowing into the open drains, flies all over the place. Now go to a laboratory and have an inspection for tapeworm infestation. You might save your own life.