Tropical Terrors

A brief review of tropical diseases

Cysticercosis

This a variation on the "normal" infection with the Taenia soleum, or pork tapeworm. Normally if humans ingest undercooked pork that has tapeworm larvae within the muscle tissue, the parasites can grow in the gut of the human, releasing eggs and immature forms of the parasite in the stool.

However - if a human ingests the tapeworm eggs, they can essentially hatch in the stomach and enter the bloodstream. They may make a home in many different tissues of the body, including the heart and brain. The damage may be low-grade and chronic, but a significant infestation within brain tissue (sometimes with 4-inch forms of the larvae) can trigger seizures - this is the most common cause of seizures in adults from tropical countries, including Mexico.

This disease, like many parasitic diseases, is much easier to prevent than to treat - avoiding the ingestion of pork tapeworm eggs. The eggs come from pig feces and even the human victim's own feces - when a human has tapeworms present in the gut, they may cause abdominal pain and weight loss - but their stool will have tapeworm larvae and eggs in it. Humans may ingest these eggs after coming into contact with their own feces or with pig feces and then not washing their hands well with soap and water (and then touching their mouth or food), Eliminating cysticercosis involves educating people about washing their hands, but also breaking the pig-human cycle of tapeworm - cooking all pork until well done, and preventing pigs from ingesting human feces.

The life cycle of cysticercosis can be seen here.

See an Animal Planet video describing one woman's experience with this parasite.