Brain Tapeworms From Undercooked Bacon Caused Man’s Migraines: Study

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The medical files of a 52-year-old Florida man hospitalized with worsening migraine headaches carry a cautionary tale for anyone who prefers their bacon more tender and not so crispy that it shatters at first bite.

And, as if a deadly monthslong pandemic in which we sanitized everything wasn’t enough persuasion, the man’s excruciatingly painful journey is a reminder of the importance of washing your blessed hands after you go to the bathroom.

Doctors discovered parasitic pork tapeworm larvae in the unidentified patient’s brain, and researchers think he was infected by eating undercooked bacon, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Case Reports.

The man was hospitalized after his migraines became more frequent and debilitating and medication failed to dull them. A CT scan revealed numerous fluid-filled sacs on his brain called cystic foci. He was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis, a preventable parasitic issue infection caused by the larvae cysts of the pork tapeworm.

The larvae cysts of pork tapeworm can infect various parts of the body, causing a condition known as cysticercosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Larval cysts in the brain cause a form of cysticercosis called neurocysticercosis which can lead to seizures.

The CDC says a person gets neurocysticercosis by swallowing microscopic eggs passed in the feces of a person who has an intestinal pork tapeworm. It can spread quickly and indiscriminately.

For example, if Joe eats undercooked, infected pork and gets an intestinal tapeworm infection, he will pass the tapeworm eggs in his feces. If Joe doesn’t properly wash his hands after using the bathroom, he may contaminate food or surfaces with feces containing those eggs.

If Jane eats the contaminated food prepared by Joe, she may end up swallowing these eggs. Once inside the body, the eggs hatch and become larvae that can travel to the brain and cause neurocysticercosis.

The cycle can repeat, especially in developing countries where the disease is endemic. The man at the center of the study hadn’t traveled to any of those places.

His only connection to the neurocysticercosis diagnosis was his “habit of eating lightly cooked, non-crispy bacon most of his life,” according to the study.

“It can only be speculated, but given our patient’s predilection for undercooked pork and benign exposure history, we favor that his cysticercosis was transmitted via autoinfection after improper handwashing after he had contracted taeniasis himself from his eating habits,” the report concluded.

After receiving successful treatment with antiparasitic and anti-inflammatory drugs, the man’s brain lesions regressed, and his headaches improved, according to the report.

Neurocysticercosis was “thought to be nonexistent” in the United States, and the case “may have public health implications,” the report said.

“The great variability of symptoms that neurocysticercosis can present with should not be understated, and although it is a leading cause of epilepsy worldwide, it can present with more subtlety,” the study said.

Symptoms of neurocysticercosis vary depending on the infected structures and tissues, and range from headaches to seizures. The disease can be fatal, according to the CDC.

None of this means anyone should give up America’s favorite breakfast meat. But do pay attention to how it’s cooked. Bacon should be crispy, whether it’s cooked in a skillet or in a conventional or microwave oven, according to the USDA.

Determining the temperature of thin meat like bacon can be challenging. However, if it’s cooked until crispy, it should have reached a safe temperature. Bacon contains curing agents that can make it appear pink even when cooked, but it’s still safe to eat.

It’s not recommended to partially cook raw bacon and then store it in the refrigerator to finish cooking later. Doing so may not destroy any bacteria present. Always cook bacon thoroughly before removing it from the heat source.

Precooked bacon from the package is safe to eat as is, but if you want to reheat it, follow the package instructions. Alternatively, you can place the bacon strips on a microwave-safe plate or a paper towel and microwave for about 10 seconds per strip.

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