The food which you eat, if not washed and cooked properly, can leave you with neurocysticercosis (NCC), a parasitic infection of the brain, which is the cause of seizures and epilepsy.
NCC is caused by accidental ingestion of food contaminated with eggs of taenia solium, commonly called tapeworm. Unwashed raw vegetables, fruits and infected pork are the main ways through which these eggs enter the body, say experts from PGI.
“At our department, every month about 300 new cases of acquired epilepsy are reported, and the reason behind about 150 of them is ‘worms’ in the brain,” said Dr Param S Kharbanda, head of the Neurology Department at PGIMER.
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Acquired epilepsy and seizures because of tapeworm is also one of the common problems that the doctors are witnessing at the Advanced Paediatrics Centre of PGI. “At APC, more than 150 new cases of NCC among children are seen annually,” said Dr Pratibha Singhi, chief of Child Neurology and Neuro Development at PGIMER.
“The parasitic cyst enters the body by ingestion of infected raw vegetables or uncooked infected pork. These young tapeworms release larvae that develop into adult tapeworms in the intestine, and shed thousands of extremely contagious eggs in the faeces. If tapeworm larvae move out of the intestine, they can cause local growths and damage tissues such as the central nervous system, eye, heart, or muscles,” Dr Param said.
Experts say NCC is a growing public health problem, especially in the areas where poor hygiene is maintained. Patients come up with severe side-effects caused by tapeworm, like brain damage. Some fall into coma, while others lose motor functions, experience violent seizures or go blind.
Symptoms of neurocysticercosis vary with the location of the lesions and the number of parasites. Seizures and epilepsy are the most common symptoms; headache, dizziness and stroke are some other symptoms.
“People should not get misguided that the cysts can be removed through a needle in the nose as some fraudsters claim. They should not believe in faith healers. The only way the cysts can be removed is by a proper neuro-surgical operation, and that is hardly ever required,” Dr Param said.
Talking about the prevention, the doctor said, “Pork should be well cooked, raw vegetables and fruits must be thoroughly washed, and proper hygiene should be maintained.”