Esquire and the Journal of Urdu literature issue warnings about potentially deadly worms
A man who died in June, apparently from dehydration, may have suffered a horrifying parasite for decades. Photograph: Frank Lloyd Wright/Getty Images
The boy woke up five years ago, and started coughing and shaking – he became paralyzed from the chest down. He was in agony, and took no pills. Doctors diagnosed meningitis, which can often show up as a headache or headache, and prescribe plenty of pain medication.
Then, in 2015, he died, and doctors suspected encephalitis – another group of potentially deadly parasites in the brain.
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Unable to say when the boy first became infected, they assumed that he had suffered meningitis sometime since 2008, when he saw a gastroenterologist for symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation. It wouldn’t be long before doctors knew his secret: he’d had tapeworms.
A five-year-old in an obscure town, living with his parents, was vaccinated to prevent meningitis in the hope that the pattern – encephalitis could signal parasites in the brain – would clear up. But the boy’s name was Ahmed Mohamed Hassan.
He’d grown up with these parasites, the 200,000 to 400,000 or so known to infect the world. He could have fed them through his tiny intestine; his body fat, where he stored bacteria and fungi, protected him for years.
Many people keep parasites in their bodies, even if they undergo the three-decade process to eradicate them. But routine vaccines don’t work – such parasites can hide for years while the body fixes them. It’s like an abscess. Or like bad sinus pressure: you notice the problem, fix it, but now a second abscess creeps up on you.
Tapeworms in the brain cause seizures, severe headaches, altered vision, neurological impairment and even death
And it’s still here. Tapeworms in the brain cause seizures, severe headaches, altered vision, neurological impairment and even death. The disease affects an estimated 1 to 2 million people every year – but most have not developed symptoms. It’s the biggest target of antimalarial drugs.
Despite the risk of devastating disease and long-term development of the parasites, people don’t give up on the family members of a family member who has contracted tapeworms – the parasite practically clings to its host like a family member, and since they’re most often children, the parasites do less damage. The children are soon eating what they’re meant to, healing themselves with vitamin and other nutrients.
For those who do get sick, it’s impossible to undo. Lifestyle-changing foods – which cannot grow in the body – can get stored in the body as the parasite’s “foreign body”. Tapeworms can also circulate through the bloodstream, attack the nervous system, and invade the brain.
With a young family, the man had probably continued down this path since seeing a gastroenterologist in 2008 – so when the boy woke up feeling terrible, he had no reason to suspect tapeworms were attacking his brain.