MRI scan on a woman’s brain shows she had a cyst full of tapeworm larvae. Picture: The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
MRI scan on a woman’s brain shows she had a cyst full of tapeworm larvae. Picture: The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Doctor’s horror find in woman’s brain

An Australian woman who suffered from severe migraines had a cyst full of tapeworm larvae discovered in her brain.

The 25-year-old barista had complained about headaches three times a month, for the past seven years.

She was prescribed migraine medication but suspected something more sinister was wrong when her most recent headache lasted for more than a week and she began to suffer blurred vision and aches.

An MRI scan on her brain later revealed she had a suspected tumour or brain abscess.

But during an operation to remove the brain lesion, surgeons discovered it was actually a cyst full of tapeworm larvae.

The woman's case was detailed in the Physicians in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which was published on September 21.

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Doctors initially believed the woman had a tumour, but an MRI scan on her brain revealed she instead had a cyst full of tapeworm larvae. Picture: The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Doctors initially believed the woman had a tumour, but an MRI scan on her brain revealed she instead had a cyst full of tapeworm larvae. Picture: The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

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Shocking images show just how much space the larvae took up in her brain.

Tapeworms usually live in a person's intestines and occur when a person eats undercooked pork or comes into contact with tapeworm eggs, according to the World Health Organisation.

Experts said this was the first native case of neurocysticercosis (NCC) in Australia.

"Australian cases reported have either been in immigrants or returning residents, who have travelled to endemic regions," the authors wrote.

"Autochthonous cases have been recorded in other nonendemic regions of the world, including a frequently referenced report in an orthodox Jewish community in New York City and also in Middle Eastern countries, where pork consumption is forbidden for religious reasons."

However, the woman, who has not been identified, and her family had neither accommodated guests or domestic workers from endemic regions nor did the patient report previous or current close contact with people from areas of known endemicity, the study explains.

She was believed to have accidentally ingested tapeworm eggs released from a carrier, with the report adding that she had never travelled abroad.

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Tapeworms are often found living in a person’s intestines and occur when a person eats undercooked pork or comes into contact with tapeworm eggs. Picture: iStock
Tapeworms are often found living in a person’s intestines and occur when a person eats undercooked pork or comes into contact with tapeworm eggs. Picture: iStock

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The woman has made a full recovery following the operation and was considered low risk for this type of infection with no further treatment required.

But if it was left untreated, the larvae could have travelled through her body and invaded other tissues, leading to a condition called cysticercosis.

"When larvae build up in the central nervous system, muscles, skin and eyes, it leads to neurocysticercosis - the most severe form of the disease and a common cause of seizures worldwide," the World Health Organisation explains.

The study states that although the woman's case was the first documented of Australian locally acquired NCC, "it is possible that more cases could ensue".

"Clinicians need to be mindful that with the ease and frequency of world travel, diseases such as NCC that are highly endemic in many parts of the world pose a risk to inhabitants of countries with low endemicity," the authors concluded.

Originally published as Doctor's horror find in woman's brain


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