Man’s intense headaches caused by tapeworm in his brain

An 18-year-old died from parasites in his brain. The teen was sent to a hospital in India after having pain in his groin and suffering from seizures. An MRI found parasites in the patient's brain, caused by cysts. He was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis. Neurocysticercosis is a parasitic disease caused when someone swallows tapeworm eggs that have passed in the feces of someone who has an intestinal tapeworm. These parasitic invasions occur in rural areas of developing countries where pigs are allowed to

Neurocysticercosis, when larval cysts develop in the brain, can be fatal

A Texas man who suffered from debilitating headaches has found relief now that doctors have removed a tapeworm from his brain.

Gerardo Moctezuma thought his pain was caused by tension, doctors told CBS News in Austin. But the pain increased to the point Moctezuma would actually vomit.

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“It’s very intense, very strong because it made me sweat, too — sweat from the pain,” Moctezuma told NBC News in Spanish. “I would vomit from the pain.”

Neurosurgeons at Dell Seton Medical Center in Elgin, Texas, took an MRI of Moctezuma’s head and discovered a small mass near his brain stem.

Dr. Jordan Amadio ruled out a tumor, and soon realized the mass was “pretty big” tapeworm larvae cyst.

The parasite had apparently been living and slowly growing in the 40-year-old’s brain for about 10 years.

"We did get to him just in time," Amadio told CNN. Moctezuma is expected to make a full recovery.

Neurocysticercosis, when larval cysts develop in the brain, can be fatal. Last year, an 18-year-old in India was taken to the hospital after complaining of pain and seizures.

» Teen dies after tapeworm infection leads to brain damage

An MRI of the teen's head "showed numerous well-defined cystic lesions throughout the cerebral cortex … and the brain stem and cerebellum … that were consistent with neurocysticercosis," Dr. Nishanth Dev and S. Zafar Abbas wrote in their case study for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Just two weeks after arriving at the hospital, the teen died.

How people get neurocysticercosis

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person gets neurocysticercosis "by swallowing microscopic eggs passed in the feces of a person who has an intestinal pork tapeworm."

It works like this:

  • A person eats undercooked, infected pork and gets a tapeworm infection in the intestines.
  • The person passes tapeworm eggs in their feces.
  • After using the bathroom, the person doesn't properly wash their hands, and may contaminate food or surfaces with feces containing these eggs.
  • These eggs may be swallowed by another person if they eat contaminated food.
  • The eggs then hatch and become larvae that find their way to the brain.
  • These larvae cause neurocysticercosis.

The CDC states that people "do not get cysticercosis by eating undercooked pork. Eating undercooked pork can result in intestinal tapeworm (only) if the pork contains larval cysts. Pigs become infected by eating tapeworm eggs in the feces of a human infected with a tapeworm" (emphasis CDC).