Woman's Brain Cyst Turns Out to Be Lump of Tapeworm Eggs

A woman in Australia was found to have a cyst full of tapeworm eggs in her brain after having suffered from headaches for about a week. Doctors say this is the first case of an Australian catching the infection without leaving the country, raising questions over how she picked up the parasite.

A scan revealed the unnamed 25-year-old woman from Melbourne, a southeastern coastal city of Australia, had a mystery lesion in the right bottom of her brain measuring 8mm (0.31 inches.)

On removing the lesion, surgeons "unexpectedly" found it was not made up of human tissue, but instead was tapeworm larvae. The case study has now been published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Since the age of 18, the patient had suffered from migraines which disturbed her vision, lasting two or three times per month, which usually got better after she took medicine prescribed by her doctor.

But the woman's latest episode did not get disappear on its own as it usually would, and she had a mild to moderate headache for around seven days. This time, her visual problems were also more severe, and her sight would blur from time to time.

The woman was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis (NCC). This condition occurs when a person accidentally ingests the eggs of what is known as the pork tapeworm. The eggs travel through the bloodstream to organs where they become cysts, particularly in the muscles or central nervous system.

According to the team, this marks the first time NNC has been reported in an Australian who has not traveled to a location where the infection is common.

The pork tapeworm is endemic in many parts of the world, including parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where it is common for animals reared for food to ingest feces from humans infected with it, according to the authors.

It is rare for people in economically affluent regions, or places where eating pork is unusual, to get infected.

According to the case study, the woman had lived with her parents and siblings in a suburb of Melbourne, and had worked as a barista at a local cafe. She also had never smoked, or taken illegal drugs, and had not encountered animals other than pet dogs and cats.

Doctors were unable to pinpoint the source of the infection, but believe it is possible the woman may have caught the worm at work, as she mixed with people from a range of places. She may have ingested eggs from a carrier.

As the woman had only one legion that was surgically removed, the doctors decided she did not need further treatment.

The authors of the case study said they shared the woman's story to warn other doctors it is possible for people to be infected with the worms in countries where they are not endemic. It is possible that similar cases will emerge in the future, the team said.

pork tapeworm, getty, stock
A stock image shows a pork tapeworm. Surgeons "unexpectedly" removed one from a woman's brain in Australia.