Brain Tapeworms Are a Terrifying ‘Hidden Epidemic’

Brain tapeworms are now the latest obscure and horrifying thing you have to worry about, thanks to the existence of the internet.

It used to be that we could live in relative ignorance about the existence of rare-ish and strange disease, perhaps encountering something like brain tapeworms in a book of oddities or curiosities every so often. But when the internet discovers that there are brain tapeworms, everyone wants to know exactly how at risk they are of contracting such a horrifying illness.

And how does one even get a brain tapeworm? Mostly associated with third-world countries and ill-conceived diet plans of decades ago, brain tapeworms result from confused tapeworms that in turn result from consuming undercooked pork. Yes, it’s true. Bacon gives you brain tapeworms.

The current round of news about brain tapeworms seems to stem from an interview Theodore Nash of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland did with Discover. Nash sees a “few dozen” patients in his clinic each year suffering the effects of brain tapeworms- effects which include seizures, paralysis, blindness and loss of speech.

But the doctor explains to the mag that the effects of neurocysticercosis, which is the disease resulting from brain tapeworms, affects far more people than his clinic treats:

“‘Nobody knows exactly how many people there are with it in the United States,’ says Nash, who is the chief of the Gastrointestinal Parasites Section at NIH. His best estimate is 1,500 to 2,000. Worldwide, the numbers are vastly higher, though estimates on a global scale are even harder to make because neurocysticercosis is most common in poor places that lack good public-health systems. ‘Minimally there are 5 million cases of epilepsy from neurocysticercosis,’ Nash says.”

brain tapeworm

Nash also explains that while effective preventive methods exist for combatting brain tapeworms, no one is very concerned about the problem:

“I see this as a disease that can be treated and prevented… All of this seems to be very feasible, but nobody wants to do anything about it.”

Left untreated, brain tapeworms can lead to death.