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Parasitic infestation: Cysticercosis

Constipation in children

Cysticercosis infection


One of the most gross pictures we see on the internet are those of worms lodged in patients' heads, trying to make its way out of the closest points of exit – the nostrils, eyes, ears, and even through the mouth. Though this may not often be the case, we have to be aware that tapeworms can actually find its way up to the brain. And this is the condition called cysticercosis.

Cysticercosis is due to an infection of tissues by tapeworm cysts after ingestion of contaminated human feces. The pork tapeworm, or Taenia solium, is most usually associated with cases of cysticercosis. Contrary to that of a noninvasive tapeworm infection, in cysticercosis the human serves as the intermediate host of the parasite. This condition is relatively rampant in areas where the pork tapeworm is known to be endemic – such as in the Philippines, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, as well as in Mexico.

Commonly persisting for several years prior to development of symptoms, cysticercosis results to the presence of lesions in the brain, and symptoms are simply an outcome of either local inflammation or ventricular obstruction. Seizures, altered cognition, focal neurologic deficits, as well as psychiatric disease are among the expected presenting symptoms. Hydrocephalus, as well as signs of meningeal irritation such as a very severe headache, papilledema (or edema of the optic disk in the eyes), vomiting, and even loss of sight can occur in the presence of cysts at intraventricular (inside the ventricle of the brain) areas. Death can also ensue quickly if cysts proliferate at the base of the brain.

If cysticercosis occurs at other areas aside from the brain, there are no apparent differences from that of noninvasive disease, except that it can cause discomfort in the muscles, or the presence of painless subcutaneous skin lesions.

Treatment is particularly difficult for patients with cysticercosis. A lot of weighing has to be done, based on the area affected. Although surgical removal of the cysts is the most appropriate, potential harm due to inflammatory responses must also be considered. Most often, it is the active lesions that are susceptible to therapy; however, the already calcified and inactive lesions are already irreversible. Aside from the main concern of eliminating the worms from the system, one main concern is how to alleviate seizures (via anticonvulsant therapy) swiftly without compromising the other pharmacologic treatments administered.

Therefore, to prevent this cascade of disease, we should all promote eating of properly cooked food. Prevention is definitely better than cure, especially in cases such as this!

In to swimbi.com