Parasite Causes Meningitis Mystery

Meningitis is an infection of the brain that is usually caused by a bacteria or virus. Doctors look at the white blood cell count and consider physical symptoms when diagnosing this disease. Both forms are dangerous, however, the bacterial can be more severe. In the case of a woman in China, the normal evidence for meningitis was not present. She certainly, however, showed the symptoms. Her son came with her to the hospital with the same illness. Doctors began to search for a common link and found it in their recent dining experience.

The Culprit

The only thing left that could contribute to the meningitis was a possible parasite. The elderly woman and her son had eaten a Chinese red-headed centipede prior to their visit to the hospital. It turns out that the centipede was carrying a parasite in the form of a worm that goes by the scientific name of Angiostrongylus cantonensis. The correlating illness is known as rat lungworm disease.

The worm eggs are hatched in rat’s lungs and the larvae is excreted in their waste. Slugs and snails are known to pick up the parasite. Humans are exposed to the parasite when they eat these items. Centipedes have never before been the culprit of this type of complication.  Centipedes are often used as a medicine, however, they are prepared into a powder for this purpose. These individuals had chosen to eat raw centipedes. Several more centipedes from the same market also tested positive for parasites. This new method of rat lung disease infection is an interesting case for scientists to explore.

How it Spreads

The larvae of this particular parasite cannot complete its life cycle without a slug or snail for a host. When other animals eat snails that contain the parasites they act as a host. They can then transmit the parasite to anything that eats them. While this is the first known experience with centipedes, there have been other sources of rat lungworm disease. Humans have come down with the illness by eating crabs, monitor lizards, frogs, and shrimp.

Human Infection

The worms make their way to the human brain and die there. The disease is not contagious between humans, yet it can cause severe illness. The central nervous system can be damaged, and the brain can become inflamed. In severe cases, humans can become paralyzed and suffer a fatality. This is a rare infection that has only been reported around 3,000 times.

Common geographical areas are subtropical and tropical locations. Hawaii is a common area to find them. They have also been found some areas of the mainland United States. The most common form of transmission is produce that is delivered with snails or slugs hiding in it. The main way to avoid infection is to wash and cook your food thoroughly. Differences in diet around the world, make infection more likely in some areas. Snails are a common dish in France, for example.

Parasites hide in many areas of our planet. The most dangerous ones affect major organs such as the heart or brain. It is necessary to be careful with food products, especially with modern mass production. Specialty foods are often shipped around the world, as well. Take care to inspect, wash, and cook your food items.

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