Tapeworm-linked seizures may be rising in US, doctors say

April 8, 2013 by Randy Dotinga, Healthday Reporter
Tapeworm-linked seizures may be rising in U.S., doctors say
Neurologists issue guidelines for treatment.

(HealthDay)—Tapeworm infection in the brain that can trigger seizures is a growing health concern, doctors say.

But the infection, which leads to swelling in the , is usually treatable with medication, according to a leading association of neurologists.

Estimated cases of neurocysticercosis, as the tapeworm infection is called, range from 40,000 to 160,000 each year in the United States, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "It's been around a long time, affecting people living in severe poverty, but the disease is not well-studied or understood," Hotez said.

Texas is one area of the country with many cases. "The disease has now become a leading cause of epilepsy in Houston," Hotez said. "Every [week], we have patients come into our tropical medicine clinic with it."

Concerns about an apparent increase of within the United States led the American Academy of Neurology to issue treatment guidelines for doctors and patients in the April 9 issue of the journal Neurology.

The recommendations are based on a review of 10 studies published between 1980 and 2010 that evaluated so-called cysticidal drugs for treatment of tapeworm infections. The infection involves infestation of the brain with the larvae of the Taenia solium tapeworm. In severe cases, it can cause death.

Tapeworm infection is common in Third World countries because of inadequate sanitation and hygiene, and an estimated 2 million people worldwide have epilepsy as a result. The good news is that good hygiene and food preparation can prevent it.

People develop the tapeworm infection when they consume improperly cooked meat, such as pork, or any food or drink that contains the tapeworm eggs or larvae (also known as cysts). Touching the fecal matter of an infected person is another means of transmission. The larvae then transform into full-sized tapeworms, which can grow to several feet, Hotez said.

In pigs, tapeworm larvae travel to the brain and await transmission to another animal (a human, for instance) when the pigs are eaten, he said. The parasites do the same thing in humans, but there's nowhere to go from the human brain. Ultimately, the larvae die, and that's when the trouble begins.

As the larvae die, they lose the ability to hide from the body's immune system. The immune system responds by causing inflammation, which leads to epileptic seizures and brain swelling, Hotez said.

The guidelines for children and adults recommend using the medication albendazole to kill the cysts if they're alive and treating brain swelling with corticosteroid drugs that dampen the . The study found that albendazole (Albenza), used with or without the corticosteroids, reduced seizure frequency and the number of brain lesions seen in imaging scans. Not enough data was available to evaluate another drug, praziquantel, the researchers said.

Only limited evidence exists to support specific treatment approaches, however, and the treatments may produce side effects, such as abdominal complaints, according to the guidelines. It's also unclear whether anti-epileptic medications may help prevent the seizures caused by the inflammation.

For now, the key is physician awareness, said Dr. Karen Roos, a professor of neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and lead author of the guidelines. "Physicians from areas of the world where this infection is endemic are very knowledgeable about this infection," she said. "They know more than U.S. physicians."

with the tapeworm is preventable through proper sanitation, good hygiene and thorough cooking of meat.

Explore further: Seizures in patients with pork tapeworm caused by Substance P

More information: For more about tapeworm infection, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Related Stories

Seizures in patients with pork tapeworm caused by Substance P

February 9, 2012

A neuropeptide called Substance P is the cause of seizures in patients with brains infected by the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium), said Baylor College of Medicine researchers in a report that appears online in the open access ...

Tapeworm DNA contains drug weak spots

March 13, 2013

For the first time, researchers have mapped the genomes of tapeworms to reveal potential drug targets on which existing drugs could act. The genomes provide a new resource that offers faster ways to develop urgently needed ...

Man dies after parasitic worms invade lungs

March 20, 2013

(HealthDay)—A Vietnamese immigrant in California died of a massive infection with parasitic worms that spread throughout his body, including his lungs. They had remained dormant until his immune system was suppressed by ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.