Man's brain infested by tapeworms after eating undercooked meat

Undercooked pork is a common cause of tapeworm infestation. Source: Pixabay

If you love a rare steak, you may want to look away now.

Because Chinese doctors have given a graphic display of what can happen when you eat rare or undercooked red meat, with one extreme case resulting in a man developing tapeworms in his brain. A patient identified only as Mr Wu ended up at the Affiliated Hospital of Guizhou Medical University after suffering repeated bouts of intense vomiting, dizziness and fever, as well as hydrocephalus (excessive fluid on the brain).

The doctors reporting on the case on the hospital website said that Wu had been suffering the symptoms for at least six months and was near death when he arrived at the hospital, where an MRI scan revealed that his brain stem surrounded by cystic lesions.

Dr Yang Ming told the Guizhou Metropolitan Daily that it was only after the lesions were removed during surgery that doctors identified them as tapeworm egg sacs. In all, the doctors found more than 30 tapeworm eggs had hatched inside Wu’s brain, with some of the worms measuring one centimetre in width. Experts then identified the tapeworms as pork tapeworms, probably ingested by Wu by eating under-cooked pork.

Wu underwent an extensive craniotomy so doctors could remove the eggs and larvae. The cystic lesions were scattered around the brain making the task even harder for doctors, who had to be careful not break any of the eggs. 

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The egg sacs and tapeworms removed during the surgery. Source: Affiliated Hospital of Guizhou Medical University

According to The Daily Mail, Wu was in intensive care following the surgery and needed follow-up treatments to kill the tapeworms completely. Yang told reporters from the Guizhou Metropolis Daily that doctors couldn’t confirm all the parasites were removed from the brain and that they would be giving the patient “insecticide treatment” as even dead worms could cause severe tissue reactions and further damage.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that such a tapeworm infection is caused by eating raw or undercooked beef or pork, but many people would be unaware that they were infected because symptoms are usually non-existent or mild. The CDC says that although the US sees fewer than 1,000 cases a year, infection is common in less developed countries, including across Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, India and Asia, where animals more often live in unsanitary conditions.

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The CDC recommends cooking whole cuts of beef or pork to at lease 63C (145F) and using a meat thermometer to ensure the thickest part of the meat has reached that temperature. It also recommends letting the meat rest for three minutes before eating. Minced or ground meat should be cooked to at least 71C (160F) but doesn’t require resting time.

Yang, meanwhile, advises using a separate food prep area for raw foods to avoid cross-contamination and also recommends regular hand-washing while preparing food.

Have you ever tried eating raw meat? Or do you avoid it for reasons like this?

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