Brain-eating parasites, yuck!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Toxoplasma
The nasty Toxoplasma gondii.

This past month, two 12-year olds were infected with an organism called Naegleria fowleri, which is a brain-eating organism. These gruesome parasites can climb up your nose and rest in your head, eating your brain as they get cozy. Sounds scary and deadly, huh? In fact, of the 123 people in the US who carried this parasite in their bodies, there is only 1 person that has survived. As you can tell, this tiny organism can take down animals trillions of times its size, but beware, these pesky pests aren’t the only ones who can.

Taenia solium tapeworms are common in Asia, South America, and Latin America. When pigs hunt for food, they can ingest the eggs of the tapeworm, which go through the stomach and get digested. They don’t die though, like I thought they would. Instead, they grow inside the intestines and spread through the piggy muscles. If a human eats this infected meat, the tapeworm just goes in one way and out the other. However, if someone eats the stomach of a tapeworm-infected swine, the eggs can get into their body, go into the bloodstream, and grow in the brain!

While tapeworms can grow in pigs and humans, the parasite Toxoplasma gondii can only grow in cat stomachs, thank goodness! However, this doesn’t mean that humans can’t be infected by the organism. If you eat infected, undercooked foods, or drink contaminated water, you are likely to find it inside your body. Apparently as many as 1 in 4 people in America catch t. gondii. Most of the time, the parasite isn’t strong enough to affect a person, but when it is, people experience slow reaction times and are more likely to get into a traffic accident.

If the effects of Toxoplasma gondii are hard to notice, the effects of Loa loa are the polar opposite. You see, this organism is an eye worm that can grow in your eyeballs, and spread through the rest of your body for 10 to 15 years. People who are infected often have faulty nervous systems and bad vision. There are medicines that kill the worms, but the pests are just as dangerous dead as they are alive! When they are killed, the eggs and bodies stay inside of us, and block tiny blood vessels, which can damage the brain and cause symptoms like memory loss, decreases in brain function, depression, and inability to focus. There’s no winning with the Loa loa.

Just thinking about the possibility of being infected by one of these parasites makes me want to live in a bubble for the rest of my life. Since that’s not really practical, I’ll just make sure my food is thoroughly cooked and my water is properly filtered.