Man's Headaches Turn Out to Be Tapeworm in Brain

Tiny, wriggling worm was removed from Luis Ortiz
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 4, 2015 11:31 AM CST
Updated Nov 7, 2015 5:00 PM CST
Man's Headaches Turn Out to Be Tapeworm in Brain
In a Nov. 2, 2015 photo, college student Luis Ortiz pauses while describing the night he ended up in the Queen of the Valley Medical Center earlier this year.   (J.L. Sousa/Napa Valley Register via AP)

It's something most of us have done before: ignored a headache. A 26-year-old California man did just that beginning in late August, but then the pain got worse. The cause turned out to be almost unimaginable: a tapeworm larva that had made its way to his brain. The Napa Valley Register reports that Luis Ortiz's mother took him to the ER at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in early September after disorientation and vomiting set in while he was at her house. It wasn't a moment too soon. A cyst had formed around the worm that was preventing water from getting to Ortiz's brain. His neurosurgeon, Dr. Soren Singel, likened the situation to "a cork in a bottle," and said the Sacrament State senior was perhaps 30 minutes away from death. A drain served to relieve the pressure on his brain, and surgery that involved drilling into his skull followed.

Singel suspects Ortiz ate something that contained tapeworm eggs, with the larvae making its way to his intestines and then brain. What was removed from the cyst was a wiggling worm that measured just 1/16 of an inch. Ortiz is on medication designed to wipe out any other lingering tapeworms, and has had to withdraw from school while he does therapy designed to strengthen his memory. CBS Sacramento reports that where the tapeworm came from is "still a mystery," though pork—or the feces of someone who was infected via pork and then prepared food Ortiz ate—is a possibility. The CDC explains that neurocysticercosis is a "parasitic infection caused by larval cysts of the pork tapeworm" that hospitalizes about 1,000 Americans each year. For now, Ortiz says, "I have been staying away from pork." (Something even grosser was pulled from a man's head last year.)

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