Tapeworms are flat, segmented intestinal parasites often found in animals that eat or drink contaminated food or water. Humans can be infected by this parasite as well, typically after consuming under-cooked meat from an infected animal or living in poor hygienic conditions.
Normally, discovering a tapeworm anywhere in your body is a horrifying thought. However, for one woman in New York, it turned out to be an absolute relief.
The 42-year-old woman, Rachel Palma, began experiencing various strange symptoms affecting her cognition and motor functions. According to a local news outlet, she found herself frequently forgetting words, and struggling to maintain a grip of items like her coffee mug.
She approached a doctor with her symptoms and after an MRI scan, an odd-looking lesion was discovered in her brain. She was treated by a resident neurosurgeon at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, Dr. Jonathan Rasouli.
The Initial Diagnosis
Concerns arose that the lesion found in Rachel’s brain might be a malignant brain tumor. The fear was that, if the tumor was not removed immediately, it could be life-threatening.
The doctors opted to perform brain surgery to remove the tumor. They were in for the surprise of their life. The operation was carried out, but there was no tumor in the place where the scan placed the lesion. The surgeons found themselves looking at a hard-shelled figure, roughly the size and shape of a quail egg.
A Strange Discovery
When the lesion was removed and studied under a microscope, a baby tapeworm was discovered inside the egg. As frightening as the idea might sound, Rachel no longer found herself facing the possibility of malignant brain cancer.
It turns out, the actual diagnosis for Rachel was neurocysticercosis. This disease occurs following the ingestion of microscopic tapeworm eggs present in undercooked pork. Once in the new host body, the parasitic eggs hatch and the larvae travel to various other parts of the body to form lesions.
According to the World Health Organization, the larvae are known to travel to the muscles, eyes, skin and central nervous system to form cysts, which can cause epilepsy.
However, this impairing infection proved to be a boon to Rachel Palma, who had the parasitic cyst removed and needed no further treatment for the condition.
The Mystery and the Miracle
Rachel and the doctors involved are still unsure of how she contracted this parasitic infection. Neurocysticercosis is a relatively rare disease in the US and is more prevalent in developing nations.
During the period leading up to when she first started displayed symptoms of the cyst, Rachel hadn't traveled abroad, in particular to those countries where the infection is rampant, nor had she consumed any under-cooked meat.
Nonetheless, Rachel is happy to be healthy again and has no interest in questioning where and how she came across this parasitic egg. She’s just grateful to have a chance to continue making the most out of life.