Thursday, November 20, 2008

Now this is creepy!

How on earth did this get in there?

Doctors in Arizona thought a Phoenix-area woman had a possible brain tumor, but it turned out there was something else penetrating her brain – a worm.

Rosemary Alvarez started experiencing numbness in her arm and blurred vision. She went to the emergency room twice and had a cat scan, but everything came up clear, reported.

It wasn’t until doctors took a closer look at an MRI that they discovered something very disturbing.

“Once we saw the MRI we realized this is something not good,” neurosurgeon, Dr. Peter Nakaji told the news station. “It's something down in her brain stem which is as deep in the brain as you can be.”

Alvarez was wheeled into surgery where Nakaji and his colleagues were expecting to remove a tumor, but they uncovered a worm instead.

On a video of the surgery, Nakaji can be heard chuckling after he made the discovery.

“I'm sure this is a very strange response for the people in the operating room,” he told “But because I was so pleased to know that it wasn't going to be something terrible.”

Doctors removed the worm and don't believe Alvarez will have any lingering health problems. No one knows exactly where she picked up the worm –- doctors said worms can come from eating undercooked pork or spread by people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, according to the report.

“It only takes one person who is spreading it constantly to get a lot of people exposed and some of those people are going to go on to develop this problem,” Nakaji said.

Alvarez, who is now healthy and has resumed normal activities such a playing ball with family in her backyard, said she hopes people learn this lesson from her story.

“Wash your hands, wash your hands,” she added.

I can understand intestinal worms . . . but how the heck did a worm get into her brain???

A video about Mrs. Alvarez is shown below, including footage of the operation - but be warned! It's not for the queasy of stomach! For me, the really frightening bit is the doctor's comments, from about 3m. 24sec. to 4m. 27sec. into the video. It seems that this is a growing problem . . . and we'll all have to be careful.

I'm very happy for Mrs. Alvarez - and I'll be washing my hands a lot more carefully from now on!



Anonymous said...

Short version, she must have swallowed tapeworm eggs, and not the larvae as is vastly more common in this type of infection. Humans are not the "intended" host for any stage of this parasite's life cycle and least of all for this stage- usually, we get encysted larvae from underdone pork.

Longer version... how they penetrate the blood-brain barrier is still a mystery. If you're genuinely interested, pick up Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex- parasites are another of those groups of organisms that we've neglected for almost all of biology's history because we thought they were "simple".

Anonymous said...

On a "House" episode one of the patients had this problem, and, as the first commenter explained, the eggs from the tapeworm in the intestines can migrate through the intestinal wall, because it's small enough. It can then be carried into any area of the body, muscle or brain tissue and, I would think pass through the capillary wall again.