The parents of an 8-year-old girl suffering from severe headaches and epileptic seizures for months were both relieved and horrified when doctors told them her diagnosis: 100 tapeworm eggs were inside her brain.
Doctors at Fortis Hospital in New Delhi, India, told India Today the larvae traveled to the girl's brain through her bloodstream, causing massive swelling. By the time she was hospitalized, the young girl, who has not been identified, was nearly unconscious.
"Her brain scan showed more than a 100 white dots, formed due to tapeworm eggs," Dr. Praveen Gupta, director of neurology at Fortis Hospital, told the newspaper. "When eggs reach the brain through the nervous system they cause neurocysticercosis, which is characterised by a severe headache, epileptic seizures and confusion."
A tapeworm infection is typically caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the parasites.
"If you ingest certain tapeworm eggs, they can migrate outside your intestines and form larval cysts in body tissues and organs," according to the Mayo Clinic. If you ingest tapeworm larvae, however, they develop into adult tapeworms in your intestines."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the likely culprit in this girl's case was the Taenia solium, also known as a "pork tapeworm" because the infection is typically caused by eating raw or undercooked meat.
"Infection with T. solium tapeworms can result in human cysticercosis, which can be a very serious disease that can cause seizures and muscle or eye damage," the CDC explains.
Gupta said they first focused on reducing the swelling of the girl's brain before administering drugs.
"Her treatment began by reducing her swelling with decongestants and later steroids and gradually the cysts (tapeworm eggs) were treated by starting anthelmintic therapy with albendazole under observation. Later the steroids and antihelminthic therapy were weaned off," Gupta described, adding that the treatment appeared to be a success.
The girl's parents told India Today they were surprised at how quickly their daughter's health bounced back, revealing that she's already returned to school.
"We had absolutely no idea that our healthy and cheerful daughter could ever get such a dreadful disease. But I think we are extremely lucky to have reached here and get right treatment," the girl's father told the newspaper.