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Doctor shares 'brain worm warning signs' and it's something that everyone should know

Following the 'brain worm' buzz on social media, this doctor enlightens us on the warning signs that one shouldn't ignore.

Doctor shares 'brain worm warning signs' and it's something that everyone should know
Cover Image Source: An actual human brain preserved from a cadaver on display at a science fair the India International Science Festival on January 19, 2024 at Faridabad, Haryana, India. (Photo by Pallava Bagla/Getty Images)

No matter how healthy someone's lifestyle is, one may end up with some inevitable illness at some point in life. Considering this unpredictability, the best thing one can do is to stay alert. Recently, the internet has caught the "brain worm" anxiety and people feel the need to be aware of its warning signs. It all started with the buzz about Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an independent presidential candidate having faced a "brain worm" infection more than a decade ago, as per The New York Times. People have since been concerned about this parasitic infection.

Tapeworm (Taenia taeniaeformis) of a cat in the institute for parasitology of the Image Source: Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich on November 26, 2003 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Agency-Animal-Picture/Getty Images)
Image Source: Tapeworm (Taenia taeniaeformis) of a cat in the Institute for Parasitology of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich on November 26, 2003 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Agency-Animal-Picture/Getty Images)

RFK Jr.'s condition gained more traction when the presidential candidate quipped in his X post, "I offer to eat five more brain worms and still beat President Trump and President Biden in a debate." This post went viral with over 5 million views within a month. "I feel confident of the result even with a six-worm handicap," he added in the thread. This hilarious remark was an effort by the 70-year-old candidate to prove that he was fit as a fiddle compared to other major presidential candidates he was competing against. However, the fact that a worm had entered RFK Jr.'s brain, eaten a portion of it and then died inside, stuck with many. 



 

To unfold the truth behind this ailment, neurosurgeon Betsy Grunch explained some of its causes and symptoms to BuzzFeed. The foremost thing that one should understand is that the "brain worms" are parasites that infect our body parts, per the doctor. "The most common being from the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium (or neurocysticercosis)," Grunch said. So, how do these tiny tapeworms reach our brains? Turns out, its primary mode of transmission is from pig to human. When we consume raw or undercooked pork meat, chances are that we might be allowing the tapeworm that has infected the meat to enter our bodies.

Representative Image Source: Pexels |  Mark Stebnicki
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mark Stebnicki

One may wonder how the parasite that has reached our stomachs can travel to our brains. The doctor explained that though the worm cannot travel to the brain, its larvae might. Using our body as a medium, the parasite lays eggs once it enters our intestines and if the eggs are not expelled from our body through stools, they may grow into larvae. These larvae can travel to other organs through our bloodstream. These tapeworms might also be transmitted from human to human if a person has unhygienic habits like not washing their hands thoroughly after a bathroom break. 

Grunch emphasized that digestive issues are the foremost symptoms of having a tapeworm. "You would experience GI symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss specifically," she said. Though these signs sound like it's just food poisoning that can be alleviated in a matter of days, the tapeworm might be silently infecting one's brain for a long time. "Brain infection symptoms may take months to years to develop, as symptoms don't typically arise until the larvae die. When those do show up in the brain, symptoms include nausea, seizures, and headache." There are advanced tests to detect neurocysticercosis, which affects both children and adults. So, staying away from raw or undercooked pork and ensuring that one's hands are clean are the best preventive measures.

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