Last month, we reported on prominent Baylor College of Medicine tropical disease researcher Dr. Peter Hotez’ concern for the rise of tapeworm in the world, and his belief that some cancer-fighting drugs could be used to curtail the epidemic. In a new report, however, Dr. Hotez is expressing concern over tapeworm not only in the developing world, but also in the United States.
In spite of the fact that many believe neurocysticercosis, or tapeworm infection as it is commonly referred to, is largely controlled in the U.S., Dr. Hotez notes that there are 40,000 to 160,000 tapeworm cases each year in the United States, and that the infection is of particular concern to the state of Texas: “The disease has now become a leading cause of epilepsy in Houston. Every [week], we have patients come into our tropical medicine clinic with it.”
The biggest risk associated with tapeworm is how it can affect the brain: neurocysticercosis invariably leads to swelling in the brain, and while it is usually treatable with medication, cases in the U.S. — and Texas in particular — have led to the American Academy of Neurology issuing new treatment guidelines for doctors and patients. U.S. News outlines the crux of the new treatment guidelines:
The recommendations are based on a review of 10 studies published between 1980 and 2010 that evaluated so-called cysticidal drugs for treatment of tapeworm infections. The infection involves infestation of the brain with the larvae of theTaenia solium tapeworm. In severe cases, it can cause death.
Typically, tapeworm is more of an issue in developing countries, since tapeworm larvae are generally transferred through unsanitary conditions. Undercooked meat, untreated drinking water, and contact with fecal matter are all occasions for transference of the disease. What exactly the connection is between the rise of tapeworm cases in Houston (and the U.S. in general) and unsanitary conditions remains to be seen, however, it is worth noting Charles Moore’s recent article highlighting “water quality degradation” noted by Texas A&M researchers concerning the Dallas/Fort Worth aquifer. No formal connections have been drawn between these two stories, however, and it remains to be seen what exactly is causing the increase in tapeworm cases in Texas.
BioNews Texas will continue to follow the story as it develops.
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