Worm link with epilepsy ‘far higher’ than thought

By | November 10, 2009

Almost one-third of the world’s epilepsy cases are caused by an avoidable food-borne parasite, according to unpublished research commissioned by the WHO.

Neurocysticercosis (NCC), an infection of the brain, has long been known to cause epilepsy and seizures, but the size of the link has surprised experts.

Common in areas with poor sanitation, NCC is the result of infection with the eggs of Taenia solium tapeworms. Eating raw or undercooked meat from pigs infected with T. solium larvae allows tapeworms to develop in the gut and shed eggs which are passed in human faeces. The eggs are ingested, either by pigs or humans, through contaminated food. They then mature into larvae which travel to the brain and cause cysts, inducing seizures.

The new review of global data by researchers at the Texas A&M University in the US is the first to investigate the global burden of epilepsy resulting from NCC infection. The researchers reviewed over 500 articles on NCC published between 1990 and 2008.

“Thirty per cent of all people suffering epilepsy in countries where tapeworm is frequent — i.e. in developing countries where pork is consumed — also suffer from NCC,” said epidemiologist Christine Budke, presenting her preliminary findings to a food safety meeting in Geneva last week (29 October).

Arve Lee Willingham, deputy director of the WHO/FAO Collaborating Center for Parasitic Zoonoses, said the 30 per cent figure was “far higher than anyone had ever thought possible”.

Fifty million people worldwide are affected by NCC, resulting in 50,000 deaths in developing countries. Research published in 2004 suggested 2–3 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone suffer from NCC-related epilepsy.

via Tapeworm link with epilepsy ‘far higher’ than thought – SciDev.Net.

Neurocysticercosis, is the most common parasitic infection of the brain worldwide. … The main cause of human cysticercosis is the larval form of Taenia solium (pork tapeworm). – stanford

There are some really gross photos of brains with holes in them from this disease. Don’t eat pigs.

2 thoughts on “Worm link with epilepsy ‘far higher’ than thought

  1. Ann

    According to Pollock and Bourgeois’ text, Pediatric epilepsy: diagnosis and therapy (page 86), there have been few time-trend studies in afebrile seizures, which includes epilepsy. But, a study from Rochester, Minnesota, found the incidence of fell 40% from 1935 to 1975. The authors write, however, that the decrease has reversed recently, because of the increased survivorship of very low weight infants.

    But, according to a study by Wallin and Kurtzke (Neurocysticercosis in the United States: review of an important emerging infection, Neurology. 2004; 63(9):1559-64) there has been increasing number of neurocysticercosis cases in the US over the past 50 years.

    Hmmm … I wonder …

    1. Xeno Post author

      My doctor told me an interesting story. He said some people are purposefully getting infected with a competing but non dangerous type of worm. That seems pretty freaky, but he said it actually works for some people. I highly do not recommend such a thing, but if no medicine was available and you were going to die anyway…

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