Doctors Found Tapeworm Egg in Woman's Brain —and Cheered

They'd expected to find a cancerous tumor
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2019 12:34 PM CDT
Doctors' Reaction to Parasitic Brain Infection: 'Wow, This Is Great!'
An egg of a pork tapeworm, also known as Taenia solium.   (Wikimedia/Riddlemaster)

A New York woman was super pumped to learn she had a "gross" tapeworm egg in her brain—because it meant the lump wasn't a cancerous tumor as doctors had suspected. "What we saw in surgery was not at all what we were expecting," Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells Live Science. Rachel Palma, 42, had gone to the doctor in January 2018 describing some bizarre symptoms. She'd suddenly drop items with her right hand, fail to remember certain words, even try to call dead relatives, per WABC. She also suffered hallucinations and "horrific nightmares," reports Today. An MRI then revealed a lesion on the left hemisphere of her brain—the part that controls language and speech in right-handed people—which Rasouli thought "could potentially be cancerous," per Live Science.

With Palma under the knife in September, however, Rasouli saw, not soft tissue, but what looked like a marble-sized quail egg. The discovery that it was a pork tapeworm egg brought cheers from doctors, per WABC. "It was one of those rare situations where you see a parasite and you're like, 'Wow, this is great!'" Rasouli tells Today. There's still the mystery of how the egg got into brain of the Middletown woman, who might've been fine with antibiotics rather than a three-hour brain surgery. The pork tapeworm is "super rare" in the US, "like once in a blue moon," according to Rasouli, and Palma has never traveled outside of the country. She also didn't recall consuming undercooked meat. Still, she tries not to focus on the source. "I stopped asking questions and started celebrating and making the most out of life," she tells WABC. (A teen just died of the same condition.)

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