Infection with the tapeworm Taenia solium, prevalent on 4 continents, is the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy worldwide - but how can the parasite be this successful? A look at the worm's life cycle and mode of reproduction explains how this can happen.
Human infection (Taeniasis) can occur when a person eats undercooked or raw pork, infected with the larvae of the T. solium worm. After consumption, the larvae inside the meat latch onto the lining of the gut, growing off the nutrients the person eats and forming an adult worm up to 3 meters in length. This worm continues to create eggs which are excreted by the infected person and, through poor infrastructure and hygiene, get into the food and water supply.
This can once again infect a pig, completing the cycle, or infect a person. In both cases, the ingested eggs now do not simply remain in the digestive tract - they burrow into the wall of the gut, and the developing larvae enter into the circulatory system. When settle to form cysts ("Cysterci"), around the body, most notably the brain, liver, and muscle, severe problems can occur, as for example epilepsy or seizures caused by cysts in the brain. This form of infection is then called Cysticercosis.
Stay tuned to find out more about the tapeworm and support us on our way to finding a solution!
(Picture taken from the 2015 WHO report on Taeniasis/Cysticercosis: http://www.who.int/taeniasis/disease/en/)