It’s one of the classic horror stories: An insect crawls into your head through your ear, and slowly eats its way across. When it leaves, you find out it laid eggs. In your brain. Fortunately, the guy we’re about to tell you about has not experienced that last part, which is good because that would just be adding insult to terrifying, revolting injury.
The Guardian reports on an odd medical case in Britain, where a Chinese man was admitted to the hospital reporting headaches and strange smells. Odd, ring-like patterns were spotted forming over time in his brain tissue, and medical professionals spent four years baffled. They finally did a biopsy, and they found the stuff of nightmares:
Surgeons only discovered the 1cm worm while carrying out a biopsy at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge and took it to parasite experts to be identified. Geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge found the creature was a rare species of tapeworm known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei.
You know, we really want to see video of this operation, because we’ll bet there was screaming. Even a hardened surgeon has to freak out pulling a worm out of some guy’s skull.
Called sparganosis in humans, the patient really beat the odds; only 300 cases of sparganosis have been recorded since 1953. The only upside is that the worm didn’t eat any of his brain; it doesn’t have a mouth, so it just absorbed nutrients. Also, as humans aren’t the ideal host, it didn’t grow out of the larval stage. If it was able to snack on his grey matter, or it had gotten bigger, things would have been a lot worse.
Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid getting a brain tapeworm: Don’t eat frogs in China, and you should be all set. Well, at least from that particular parasite.