Surgeons remove live parasite from Sacramento man's brain

Nov 4, 2015 3:36 PM by CBS News, Photo: KOVR

A 26-year-old man is recovering after surgeons removed a live parasite from his brain during an emergency operation.

CBS San Francisco reports Luis Ortiz was just about to begin his senior year at Sacramento State when he was visiting his mother in Napa in August, and got the worst headache of his life.

Luis' mom called 9-1-1, and paramedics rushed him to Queen of the Valley Medical Center. A brain scan revealed he had a tapeworm in his brain, requiring immediate surgery. The doctor later told Luis that at that point, he had only about 30 minutes to live.

Doctors used a tool with a camera to perform emergency brain surgery and discovered the larvae of a parasitic tapeworm that had formed in a cyst blocking off circulation inside Luis' brain.

"The doctor pulled it out and he said it was still wiggling, and I'm like, 'Ugh, that doesn't sound too good.' Like, what are the odds I'd get a parasite in my head?" Luis said.

Doctors told Luis there were a few ways the parasite could have gotten inside his body.

"They told me it was uncooked pork or if I went swimming in the river or if I've been to a third world country and I was like, 'I haven't done any of that recently.' But I don't know how long that worm was in my head for," Luis said.

CBS Sacramento reports there are six types of tapeworms known to infect humans, usually identified by the animal they come from. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can get an intestinal parasite from eating undercooked meat. A brain infection can result from eating food prepared by someone who is infected and spreads the larvae through poor sanitation and hygiene. Once ingested, the larvae can travel to the brain.

The CDC says there are about 1,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. each year for brain infections caused by the pork tapeworm.

Luis says he is now looking forward to finishing college and getting on with his life.

"It's probably more gratifying to me to be living, because if I would have waited a little bit longer, then I probably wouldn't be here right now," Luis said.


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