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California's Unspoken Health Problem: Brain Parasites 313

Posted by Soulskill
from the sounds-like-a-good-star-trek-episodes dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Sunnyvale, California is a town 40 miles outside of San Francisco, in the Bay Area. As in most of California, the weather is mild, and the winters are short, even sometimes warm. On December 20, Sara Alvarez took her youngest child for a walk in the park in town. As daylight faded, Alvarez lost feeling in her right leg, then her left foot. Her body became numb, and she became weak. At 10:15 pm, her husband drove her to a hospital in Redwood City, about 20 minutes away from their town. There, over the course of Christmas, doctors batted around diagnoses: tumor, cancer. Finally, Alvarez received a brain scan that revealed the truth: neurocysticercosis, a calcified tapeworm in her brain (link contains images of brain surgery)."
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California's Unspoken Health Problem: Brain Parasites

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  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:22PM (#41267905)

    I, for one, welcome our new brain parasite overlo...

    • Re:Obligatory (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:29PM (#41267991)

      After RTFA I, for one, DO NOT welcome our new brain parasite overloards

      ...the trouble with tapeworms occurs when they reproduce. The host expels thousands of the tapeworms' larvae out of their anus, possibly infecting other people.

      • Re:Obligatory (Score:5, Informative)

        by ackthpt (218170) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:40PM (#41268095) Homepage Journal

        After RTFA I, for one, DO NOT welcome our new brain parasite overloards

        ...the trouble with tapeworms occurs when they reproduce. The host expels thousands of the tapeworms' larvae out of their anus, possibly infecting other people.

        Don't walk around bare foot.

        Don't eat raw vegetables from fields people or dogs poop in

        Don't eat raw meat.

        Get regular checkups, you can always ask for blood tests to see if you have blood parasites.

        • Re:Obligatory (Score:5, Informative)

          by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday September 07, 2012 @07:35PM (#41269269)

          Don't walk around bare foot.

          Aren't you thinking of hookworms?

          Don't eat raw vegetables from fields people or dogs poop in

          Dogs? Because only dogs can have tapeworm infections? If you want to be safe you should avoid eating any raw vegetables that weren't grown somewhere protected from wild animals. Like hydroponic or greenhouse vegetables.

          Don't eat raw meat.

          Or rare meat. The core of the meat has to reach a high enough temperature [foodsafety.gov] to reliably kill the parasites. 145F for pork and fish. 165 for everything else. Note that chefs routinely go lower than these temperatures in order to avoid tough, leathery meat. I would imagine that fish tapeworms are the most common in the US since cooking fish too long will ruin it. And then of course there is sushi.

          Get regular checkups, you can always ask for blood tests to see if you have blood parasites.

          Blood tests are not considered reliable [medscape.com]

          Eosinophil counts are not diagnostically reliable. Eosinophilia is sporadically present and does not correlate with the severity of the infection. Eosinophil counts also do not help in monitoring treatment modalities.

          • Re:Obligatory (Score:4, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:22PM (#41270819)

            Fish tapeworms won't be found in sushi -- fish sold for raw consumption has to be frozen to kill the parasites.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            In the United States, sushi fish must be deep-frozen before being served, at a low enough temperature and long enough duration to kill all parasites.

    • I don't think that's obligatory and in fact it might be a little callous considering the context.
    • by mrmeval (662166)

      That's Goa'uld and their pretty nasty and it takes a lot to get cured of them.

      For the children
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goa'uld [wikipedia.org]

  • by the_humeister (922869) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:24PM (#41267921)

    This comes from pork, so don't eat undercooked pork. Tapeworms, in general, come from raw/undercooked meat. Pigs just happen to harbor the ones that sometimes go to person's brain.

    • by morcego (260031) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:28PM (#41267973)

      There is a tapeworm that comes from cow meet also, although it is less aggressive and rarer than the pork one. So yeah, I agree the most likely cause if poorly cooked pork meat.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        hmm, that would be really odd from Pork grown in the US, these days. It's really clean compared to other countries. The exception being 'natural' or 'organic' small farms. Often the thing it's natural for a pig to eat trash and left overs.

        • by morcego (260031) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:49PM (#41268185)

          hmm, that would be really odd from Pork grown in the US, these days. It's really clean compared to other countries. The exception being 'natural' or 'organic' small farms. Often the thing it's natural for a pig to eat trash and left overs.

          You make a very good point. The proliferation of "organic" production and "farmer markets" open a big door toward infection. The problem is not those, but that people got used to no worrying, since their food is already sterilized, pasteurized, irradiated and whatnot into oblivion. When you go organic/natural production, you have to take certain measure to assure food safety.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        There is a tapeworm that comes from cow meet also, although it is less aggressive and rarer than the pork one. So yeah, I agree the most likely cause if poorly cooked pork meat.

        Cows?!? How dare you ... oh, wait you didn't mention mad cow disease in Texas. Nemmind.

    • then when are people from California so unbelievably illogical compared to elsewhere? lol. I mean 8.75% sales tax, every handout program ever, and they're bankrupt? WTF? It must be an epidemic because nobody's brains are working!
  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:28PM (#41267977)

    Finally a CT scan revealed the malady. Alvarez had neurocysticercosis — a calcified tapeworm lodged in her brain...Nobody cares about this disease, and they should, if not from a humanitarian point of view than from a fiscal aspect, says Wilkins, a scientist with the CDC

    JESUS H FUCKING CHRIST! I CARE! How can one NOT care about brainworms!

    Forget al qaeda! America has a NEW ENEMY! And it is brain tape worms! Take all my taxes, draft people, use those milimeter wave scanners on every street corner, suspend the constitution, I don't care, just keep these terrifying slimy things out of my cerebral cortex!!!

    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:32PM (#41268015)
      Thank you, citizen, for filling in our Room 101 Survey Form.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Everyone cares and knows about neurocystercicosis. It isn't rare, just uncommon in the U.S. It's the cause for about 50% of the cases of epilepsy outside of the U.S. It's pretty treatable. It's often asymptomatic, and I run into it fairly routinely, though not as much as when I lived in Texas and California. One famous case was of a Hasidic Jewish family that got it. You see, you get the tapeworms from eating undercooked pork, but you get cistercicosis for
      oral-fecal contamination from someone who has the wo

      • In the late 1980s she complained to American doctors of a pain so absolute it blinded her and made her vomit.

        They gave her Tylenol.

        And that's why i avoid all facets of the USA medical system like the plague.

    • by quax (19371)

      Indeed, if only a small percentage of the money that is spend on terrorism hysteria was going towards public health significantly more lives could be saved.

      Thank you for making this point so succinctly.

    • by Grayhand (2610049)
      "Take all my taxes, draft people, use those milimeter wave scanners on every street corner, suspend the constitution, I don't care, just keep these terrifying slimy things out of my cerebral cortex!!!"

      For a minute there I thought you were talking about Fox News.

  • Why can't we get parasites that make us super intelligent?

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:34PM (#41268021) Homepage Journal

    As California is a gateway, thanks to its border with Latin America and many international airports (plus a few containers brought to shore filled with asian imigrants, one was found abandoned at sea a few years ago) we gots lots of happy little bugs.

    It's not difficult in some corners of the world to buy a false health certification, which allows someone with rampant Tuberculosis to come on in and cough among us. (thanks to this I went on a 9 month course of Isoniazid as a preventative meausre, 9 months of total suck) Further there are people coming from rural backgrounds in SE Asia who have various gut and blood parasites, they move to the big city, get a leg up and move to the US. There's some pretty graphic examples of what peasants could have in their guts in the way of big worms thanks to eating food grown in fields fertilized by raw manure from infected oxen, goats, etc., and walking around in same fields bare footed. A mobile population in the world means this is going to happen more often, everywhere.

    Don't like it? Maybe mandatory health screenings for visitors to the US, but if you even start talking about it you'll be called all sorts of names by various groups and who is going to pay for it?

    Not just West Nile that's getting around.

  • Finaly (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bodhammer (559311) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:35PM (#41268027)
    An explanation for the behavior of the California State Legislature. I though they were just insane, who would have thought they have parasites eating their brains?
    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:38PM (#41268067)

      I though they were just insane, who would have thought they have parasites eating their brains?

      The brains were gone long ago.

      It's been all parasite for about a decade now.

    • by mark_reh (2015546)

      The legislature isn't the problem. The ballot propositions are the problem. California has mob rule, and the mob isn't very bright. 85% of California's budget is determined by ballot measures. The legislature only controls 15% of the budget.

      How much could you accomplish if your 5 year old kid controlled 85% of your budget and you only controlled 15%?

      • by enjerth (892959)

        How much could you accomplish if your 5 year old kid controlled 85% of your budget and you only controlled 15%?

        You forgot that the 5-year-olds elect 6-year-olds to control that last 15%, leaving adults with no control.

  • I find it interesting how much private information is exposed in that screenshot of the lab report. I would probably have cropped it differently or blurred it out before plastering it all over the interwebs...
  • by JustOK (667959) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:36PM (#41268043) Journal

    The worm had a person wrapped around it.

  • about California if it turns out the problem is much more common than currently understood.

    • Seems odd to me that no one who has read the story itself (no one?) is mentioning the fact that this woman got the parasite years ago in her home country, making the headline comepletly false. California doesn't have a parasite infestation any more than any ther state.
      • by mark_reh (2015546)

        Actually, if you read the story, it is not known where she acquired the parasite, and California, by virtue of its large immigrant population, has a bigger share of the problem (at least as it is known right now) than other states.

        My comment had nothing to do with where the woman acquired the parasite or what her ethnic heritage is, and was more of a comment on the poor state of everything in California. I was suggesting that the reason almost everything is so screwed up in California is that maybe there's

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:40PM (#41268085)

    This story makes it sound like you're in the burbs. Sunnyvale is a city in the heart of Silicon Valley. It borders both Cupertino (home of Apple) and Mountain View (home of Google) and has more residents than both of those put together. Would you read a story on slashdot relating how Cupertino is a town 45 miles from San Francisco?

    Weird.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      This story makes it sound like you're in the burbs. Sunnyvale is a city in the heart of Silicon Valley. It borders both Cupertino (home of Apple) and Mountain View (home of Google) and has more residents than both of those put together. Would you read a story on slashdot relating how Cupertino is a town 45 miles from San Francisco?

      Weird.

      They didn't likely bring it, if your read through TFA, she complained of suffering pain back in the 1980's when she imigrated. Patient worm. The probably was when her immune system tried to work out what to do with the dead worm.

      Sunnyvale is about as squeaky clean as you're going to find anywhere in the USA. You might find some suspect vegetables in a supermarket (anywhere in the USA) which is why you should cook pretty much everything.

      • by Compaqt (1758360)

        >You might find some suspect vegetables in a supermarket (anywhere in the USA) which is why you should cook pretty much everything.

        Does that mean no salad?

    • "Cupertino is a town 45 miles from San Francisco" - thanks, as an Aussie I had no idea where it was. ;)
  • There, over the course of Christmas, doctors batted around diagnoses: tumor, cancer. Finally, Alvarez received a brain scan

    My dad had symptoms of a stroke - which are similar. First thing he got? A dose of blood thinners and a brain scan at a local hospital.

    I can understand a little bit of incompetence, or delays due to Christmas but please don't tell me that it was cost that prevented this simple scan from happening immediately, or I will once again shake my head at the appalling state of affairs of the US

    • by Carnildo (712617)

      My dad had symptoms of a stroke - which are similar. First thing he got? A dose of blood thinners and a brain scan at a local hospital.

      In that order? Sounds like a malpractice suit waiting to happen. Give blood thinners to someone with an ischemic stroke, you get a miracle cure. Give blood thinners to someone with a hemorrhagic stroke, you kill them. That's why you try to figure out what's going on before you start treatment.

      • by ColaMan (37550)

        Pretty sure they were thinners.... it was some time ago. Maybe they were clotters :-P

    • by Richy_T (111409)

      They have to go back and forth on the diagnosis to give House's romantic back-story time to run its course. So blame the English

  • This explains SO much...

  • Bankrupt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @05:49PM (#41268201)

    In the United States, everyone -- insured or not -- is one major hospitalization away from total life-ruining bankruptcy. It's the health care system here that needs help. Brain parasites would be eradicated as a pleasant secondary effect.

  • Oh come on! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cute Fuzzy Bunny (2234232) on Friday September 07, 2012 @06:05PM (#41268379)

    Slow news day? 386 cases out of 38,000,000 people? Clearly a serious problem. I'd have to do the math, but I think you're more likely to be hit by a space rock or eaten by a shark.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Not only that, but TFA basically says the woman has had the parasite since before she ever moved to CA...

    • by tirerim (1108567)
      Literally no one in recorded history has ever been killed by a meteorite. California has had a grand total of nine fatal shark attacks since 1926 [ufl.edu], so you're pretty safe on that count, too. You might still be right that tapeworms aren't that serious a problem, but you're way off base in your comparisons.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Friday September 07, 2012 @06:06PM (#41268389) Homepage

    Budgeting for health care means focusing the available resources on the most cost effective problems first -- the things that affect the most people.

    The CDC estimates that there are 1,900 diagnosed cases every year, 386 annual cases in California alone which can cost upwards of $66,000. Often it is paid through Medicare - costing taxpayers thousands.

    California Population: 37m

    The phrase "upwards of" jumps out at me. Let's be generous and assume the number they quoted is only twice the average.

    386 cases at $33,000 = $13m per year

    The cost per Californian is under $0.50 per year. Given the weasel phrase, "upwards of", it is probably a lot less than $0.50 per year. You have a one in 100,000 chance of getting it each year in California. If you are a California resident, you are less likely to get hit by lightning, but not by a whole lot.

    Health care resources are limited. If we waste them on 1:100,000 shots, people with more common ailments will suffer. That is a bad economics and socially heartless.

    • by tirerim (1108567)
      You're not thinking about this the right way. Currently $13m is being spent annually on very expensive treatments for a very small number of people. Imagine if some of that money were instead spent on prevention, which according to TFA only costs a few hundred dollars per case if it's caught before it becomes severe. That means more money for treating more common ailments, not less.
  • IT millionaires beware! Your sushi is eating you [ucdavis.edu] This explains a lot.
    • by Kotoku (1531373)
      Almost every parasite listed on that page had essentially no reported North American cases.

      Even the few that did were mostly supplemented by a note of recent immigrants being the only ones impacted.

      Sushi is a risk...but a very minor one, especially considering the fact that I can often trust my sushi chef more than the minimum wage person cooking other quick eats to prepare my food under sanitary conditions (I've received under cooked meat many times at fast food establishments).
  • by PPH (736903) on Friday September 07, 2012 @06:15PM (#41268499)

    All the way across the country from Dr House.

    This was the series pilot [wikia.com] subject disease.

  • Summary troll (Score:5, Informative)

    by GoodNicksAreTaken (1140859) on Friday September 07, 2012 @06:22PM (#41268579)
    Alvarez says she experienced debilitating headaches for 20 years before her diagnosis, but she probably consumed tapeworm eggs much earlier than that. When Alvarez immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s she complained to American doctors of a pain so absolute it blinded her and made her vomit.

    The parasites apparently were contracted outside of the United States according to the article contrary to all of the other comments and contrary to what the Slashdot summary seems to imply.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @07:15PM (#41269101)
    Effectiveness of dried Carica papaya seeds against human intestinal parasitosis: a pilot study.: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17472487 [nih.gov]
  • by Linsaran (728833) on Friday September 07, 2012 @08:41PM (#41269825) Homepage

    It can't hurt right?

    Serious medical crisis aside, all I can picture in my head right now is Paul Ryan wearing a brain slug from Futurama, "Poor little guy starved to death"

  • Frustratingly, it seems there've been a lot of reports that point to lack of parasites (and exposure to other things as well) as being behind a lot of Americans' immunological deficiencies. But then of course as this article points out, having big cysts in your brain isn't all parades and root beer floats, either. We really need more research on how to trigger our immune systems properly without being endangered by actual meat-eating, egg-laying worms in our systems. Here's a link to one bit of research th
  • by slk (2510) on Saturday September 08, 2012 @10:28AM (#41273587)
    An outbreak of brain parasites would explain just about everything that happens in Sacramento

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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