A 26-year-old student who thought he was suffering from severe headaches actually had a live tapeworm wriggling around inside his brain.
After a month of pain, Luis Ortiz, from California, became disorientated and began vomiting. His mother rushed him to hospital where his condition worsened and he eventually lost consciousness.
Doctors at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center, in Napa, performed numerous tests and a brain scan finally revealed that a tapeworm larva had wedged inside his brain and formed a cyst that was blocking the circulation of water.
Surgery was performed immediately, without which Ortiz could have died within half an hour.
"We made a hole in skull bone over the eyebrow and drove the camera into the centre of the brain and fished out the cyst and the worm… The worm was still wiggling when we pulled it out," Dr Soren Singel, one of the neurosurgeons who performed the emergency surgery, told the Napa Valley Register.
"Another 30 minutes of that blockage and he would have been dead. It was a close call," he said.
Once the cyst was successfully removed from his brain, Ortiz was shown the tapeworm. "I was like, 'That came out of me?' It looked pretty gross," he said.
"I was shocked … I just couldn't believe something like that would happen to me. I didn't know there was a parasite in my head trying to ruin my life."
Singel said that Ortiz had probably eaten a salad or unwashed food that was contaminated with tapeworm eggs.
These eggs would have travelled into his intestine, and the larvae would've eventually made it into his brain, causing a parasitic tissue infection called cysticercosis.
"I was really lucky," Ortiz said. "They said, 'If you came in a hour later, you wouldn't be alive.' I'm grateful for all the things the doctors and my parents have done."
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims around 1,000 people are hospitalised every year for the removal of tapeworm larva, the BBC reported.
A clinical paper released today has detailed another rare case of a 41-year-old man from Colombia who died after a dwarf tapeworm known as Hymenolepis nana (H.nana) was found living inside his body.
The paper, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, explains that the tapeworm grew to such an extent that it developed tumours inside the man's body.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pathologist and lead author of the study Atis Muehlenbachs told Medscape Medical News: "It is not human cancer. It's more of an uncontrolled infection from a tapeworm cancer that is growing inside the host, which in this case is a human being."
The researchers believe that the tumour was able to proliferate because the man had a weakened immune system caused by HIV.
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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