A 50-year-old man of Chinese ethnicity was admitted to hospital in the East of England after reporting symptoms of headaches, seizures, altered smell and memory impairment. The patient had lived in the UK for 20 years but visited his homeland often. After testing negative for a range of diseases and not presenting any other abnormalities, doctors began to take a series of MRI images of his brain. Over the course of four years, they noticed a lesion migrate at least 5 cm across his brain, and after taking a biopsy from his left thalamus, they discovered a 1 cm long ribbon-shaped larval worm. The patient, who remains anonymous, was cured of his infection by the operation and is now recovering.
Small samples of the worm were sent to researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, where they began to investigate its genome. Through sequencing its DNA, they identified it as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei, a rare tapeworm species typically found in China, South Korea, Japan and Thailand, and known to cause infection by ingesting undercooked frogs or snakes, using frog meat for treating wounds, and ingesting contaminated water.
Tapeworms on the brain expand our knowledge of their genome