How can eating pork, lead to brain worms?

Consuming pork can cause diseases. One of the best known is the infestation with the swine tapeworm (scientific name Taenia solium).[1]  Normally, consumption of pork can lead to intestinal infestation with this parasitic worm, but in some cases, T. solium can cause a much more dangerous disease, called neurocysticercosis.[2]

When a human has already consumed pork infested with T. solium, the adult parasite lives in the human intestine and produces eggs.[3]  If humans consume these eggs, because of fecal contamination, the eggs can produce larvae that can lodge in the human brain, producing cysts and causing neurological problems such as seizures, paralysis, coma, and even death.[4]  They can also affect other organs, such as the eyes, and cause blindness.[5]

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If the pig consumes the eggs of T. solium, then the larvae lodge in the pig’s muscles, waiting for a human to consume the pig, to continue the cycle of infestation.[6]

In many Latin American countries, a lot of pork is consumed, and this causes millions of cases of neurocysticercosis.[7]

It must be considered that, what the T. solium larvae probably want is, to be consumed by another animal, and therefore, they would benefit from causing damage to the muscles, eyes, and brain of the animals that host the larval stage.[8] Which animal could consume humans and become infested with T. solium, is a question that we should ponder, since T. solium can remain alive for many years in the human brain,[9] and other animals, in addition to the pig, may be involved in  the cycle.[10]


This is a version which has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity. The original is titled: “¿Cómo comer cerdo, te podría dar gusanos en el cerebro?” To see the original, click the title in Spanish.

Notes

1. Linda A. Smith, “Diagnostic Parasitology” in Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology, (Missouri: Saunders Elsevier, 2007), 806.

2. Ibid., 807.

3. Ibid.

4. Carl Zimmer, “Hidden Epidemic: Tapeworms Living Inside People’s Brains,” Discover, https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/hidden-epidemic-tapeworms-living-inside-peoples-brains.

5. World Health Organization, Taeniasis/cysticercosis, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/taeniasis-cysticercosis.

6. Smith, “Diagnostic Parasitology,” 807.

7. Zimmer, “Hidden Epidemic.”

8. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

9. H.H. Garcia et al., “Neurocysticercosis,” Neurology 75, no. 7 (August 2010): 654, https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181ed9eae.

10. Pablo Maravilla et al., “Comparative Development of Taenia solium in Experimental Models,” The Journal of Parasitology 84, no. 5 (October 1998): 882-886, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3284613.

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