Parasites in your neighbor? Your cook? Your Cat?

By Lee Bellinger / November 12, 2013

READER DISCRETION ADVISED:
Parasites in your neighbor?
Your cook? Your Cat?

Brain scans Imagine having seizures and being rushed to the hospital. A brain scan shows a one centimeter “tumor.” You have immediate surgery to remove it. Now imagine waking up and listening as the brain surgeon tells you the tumor he just removed from your head was really a parasite!

This is what happened to Jay Whalley, the lead singer of an Australian rock band, in February of 2013.

Whalley is one of the lucky ones – he survived. A Vietnamese immigrant in California was not so fortunate. He died of a massive infection with parasitic worms that spread throughout his body, including his lungs. The mortality rate for patients with advanced cases of this worm is as high as 90%, according to an infectious diseases expert at Stanford University School of Medicine.

One can only wonder about the risks this man’s neighbors, co-workers, or caregivers may have been exposed to. Here’s why we’re sharing these disgusting stories with you… Although the general public isn’t worried about being infected with parasites, they should be. In fact, cysticercosis, which is what Whalley had, is on the hit list of the United States Centers for Disease Control. It is one of five parasitic infections targeted by the CDC for public health action.

Seizures, Surgeries,
Gruesome Deaths:
Third-World Parasites
Take Hold in the U.S.

Cysticercosis is the larval cyst of the pork tapeworm, which has burrowed into human tissue. They usually spend the larvae portion of their life cycle in pigs, but sometimes they end up in people, where they take up residence in the brain or the eye.

When these larvae take up residence in the brain, the condition is called neurocysticercosis – or brain cysts. In the United States, about 2,000 people are diagnosed with neurocysticercosis every year. Cases are most frequently reported in New York, California, Texas, Illinois, and Oregon.

Neurocysticercosis is the single most common infectious cause of seizures and accounts for over ten percent of seizure-related emergency room visits in the southwestern United States. Besides seizures, these “cysts” can cause muscle aches, paralysis, blindness, fluid on the brain, and comas — symptoms not usually associated with tapeworms. In addition, neurocysticercosis is the main cause of adult-onset epilepsy worldwide with over 5 million documented cases.

As distressing as neurocysticercosis is, there is something even more concerning that affects an estimated 60 million Americans. It’s called Toxoplasma gondii – Toxo for short – and every American who owns a cat is at risk…

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Scientists Think This Parasite
Can Control How You Act

You’ve probably heard of Toxo – especially if you own a cat. You’ve been told it’s an “asymptomatic” parasite in humans, unless you’re pregnant in which case it can cause birth defects. What you probably didn’t know is that if you have the Toxo parasite, it can affect how you act.

Scientists have long known that Toxo goes from one cat to another cat via rats. The Toxo actually changes rat behavior. An infected rat is drawn to cat urine, has slowed reaction times, and reduced fear of cats, making it more likely to be eaten by a cat; thus transferring the parasite to a new host.

Five Ways to Reduce
Your Exposure to Brain Parasites

The good news is there are five simple things you can do right now to protect yourself against parasites taking over your body:
Washing Hands

  1. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Wash your hands after using the bathroom, after playing with your pets, after gardening, before handling food, and before eating. Frequent hand-washing gets rid of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. (Although hand sanitizer is helpful with germs, it doesn’t always kill parasites.)
  2. Keep a clean kitchen. Wash your countertop, cutting boards, knives, and other utensils thoroughly after using them. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Cook meats thoroughly, especially pork.
  3. Wear gloves. Always wear gloves when working in the soil, picking up after pets, and changing cat litter. After these activities, wash your hands. (Note, if you have a cat, change its litter daily and do not feed it raw or undercooked meat.) You may also wish to wear gloves when shopping or going to the gym. I like mechanics gloves, which are form-fitting without being tight, and which allow good tactile sensation in your fingertips.
  4. Pay attention to your surroundings. In a restaurant, do standards of sanitation and cleanliness appear high for both the facility and the workers? In a retail store, are the clerks and your fellow shoppers people you want to share door handles, shopping carts, and restroom facilities with? (Hint: the hand-sanitizing stations and antibacterial wipe dispensers at these establishments are there for a reason!)
  5. Pay attention when travelling outside the country, too.The rock singer, Jay Whalley, is a vegetarian. He thinks he got the parasite that infected his brain while travelling in South America — four full years before he began having seizures. When travelling outside the country, eat only cooked food or food that can be peeled. Do not eat raw salads, or fruit that can’t be peeled, because they can be contaminated.

    Also be sure to drink only bottled water, or canned drinks. Do not drink fountain drinks or drinks with ice cubes. If you must drink water from a tap, boil it for at least one minute first.

    If you have symptoms of a parasite, ask your doctor to test for them. Many doctors in the United States are uninformed about parasites, and don’t realize they are on the rise in this country. Refer them to the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/npi.html. It contains information specifically for health professionals about the different types of parasitic infections and methods of treatment for each one.