Zombies aren’t the only ones who want to eat your brains. Parasitic brain worms currently infect over fifty million people throughout the world. Amoebae in water can enter the human body and consume the brain. A common cat parasite can thrive in the human brain, causing altered mind states, behavioral problems and birth defects.
Parasites of the human brain include:
Naegleria fowleri, a freshwater amoeba
Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan found in cats and rodents
Symptoms of brain parasites in humans range from none at all, to extreme neurological reactions and death.
Brain Worm Disease (Neurocysticercosis)
Brain worm is tapeworm that has migrated to the brain. The worms form cysts, attaching themselves to brain tissue or to the linings of brain cavities. They feed on nutrients carried by the brain fluid.
(Above – tapeworm is a type of segmented flatworm)
Symptoms of human brain worm disease may not appear for several years, or may appear suddenly. In some cases, neurocysticercosis generates a range of symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, confusion, seizures or blindness. Human brain worm can be fatal.
Undercooked meat and fish, and improper hand washing, are primary factors in the spread of neurocysticercosis in humans. Tapeworm and their cysts can infect pork, beef, freshwater fish, rodents, cats and dogs.
Tapeworms usually live in the intestines of a host animal. The worms may grow to several feet in length. Adult worms shed segments filled with thousands of eggs, which pass from the digestive tract into the host’s feces. Each segment, or proglottid, is about the size of a rice grain, and may twitch or wriggle. Proglottids may be found in the feces, or around the anus of the host.
Once a segment dries out, it breaks open to release the eggs. Fleas then eat the tapeworm eggs. Inside the flea, the tapeworm larvae begin to develop. If a human or animal ingests the segments, eggs or fleas, the tapeworm will survive the stomach acids and attach itself to the intestinal wall of the new host.
Sometimes, tapeworm larvae travel from the stomach into the bloodstream. They then migrate to the brain, where they form cysts. They continue to grow inside the cysts. This condition is neurocysticercosis. If the disease involves other organs such as the liver, it’s known as cysticercosis.
Human brain worm disease occurs throughout the world. Tapeworm is usually prevalent in conditions of poor sanitation, crowded living or improper food handling. It may transfer to humans through animal or human feces, dog and cat fleas, or ingestion of meat, fish or water containing tapeworm cysts or eggs. In America, the most common cause of neurocysticercosis is the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium).