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Brain Tapeworms Cause Neurocysticercosis, A Creepily Common Parasitic Disease (PHOTO)

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BRAIN TAPEWORMS
NIAID

You've heard of disgusting, 20-foot-long tapeworms living inside peoples' intestines, but it turns out their larvae are even more horrific, and they could be eating holes in your brain right now, undetected.

Brain tapeworms, or Neurocysticercosis, are a parasitic disease of the nervous system, and Discover Magazine had an interesting (and vomit-inducing) expose on the problem this week.

Basically, brain tapeworms -- larvae that can attach themselves to the cranium in the form of large white cysts -- are the result of a wrong turn. The larvae are accustomed to traveling through a pig's bloodstream and attaching themselves to its muscles. But when a human eats undercooked pork, there's a chance he or she could be eating undercooked tapeworm larvae as well.

Though the larva is now inside the human body, it still thinks it's inside the pig. Confusion ensues. It flows through the bloodstream and gets stuck inside fluid-filled cavities in the brain, then latches on and masks itself from the immune system. These larvae can form vast networks on the brain and completely mangle its function if not treated.

The magazine reported that Maryland's Dr. Theodore Nash sees patients with horrible side-effects caused by tapeworm brain damage. Some fall into comas, while others lose motor functions, experience violent seizures or go blind.

Worse, the affliction is more common than you might think. It's difficult to track exactly how many people have them because the tapeworms thrive in areas of the world with poor sanitation and less extensive healthcare networks. While Nash estimates that upward of 2,000 people have them in the United States, he says 29 million people -- or more -- could have them in Latin America alone.

And the adult tapeworms living in your intestines? They can lay up to 50,000 eggs apiece.

The disease is treatable, but its only cure, praziquantel, can cause severe swelling of the brain and problems with seizures down the line. Researchers are still working on safer treatments.

But do not fear. As Gizmodo reports, the easiest way to make sure you don't get brain tapeworms (or any other disease caused by raw meat, for that matter) is to cook your meat and wash your hands thoroughly.

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