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What Are the Different Types of Brain Parasites?

Brain parasites are organisms that live in, breed in, and/or feed on the brain.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 December 2014
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Brain parasites are harmful organisms that live and sometimes multiply in the brain, feeding off of the blood and other fluids found in the brain. While most potentially harmful organisms cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier, there are two specific types of parasites that are sometimes found in the brain. The pork tapeworm, known as taenia solium, and the amoeba, known as naegleria fowleri, are the two primary types of brain parasites that may infect humans. Brain parasites are quite uncommon, especially in developed parts of the world, but those who are affected require intense medical treatment in order to prevent permanent brain damage or even death.

The blood-brain barrier is a presence that serves to protect the brain by disallowing harmful substances to gain access to the brain through the bloodstream. This barrier protects the brain from most potentially harmful organisms, including parasites. Although gaining access to the brain is difficult, some of these parasites do occasionally make their way to the brain. Brain parasites are more common in underdeveloped countries where living conditions are not very sanitary, but it is possible for the parasites to infect anyone.

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The pork tapeworm is responsible for most cases of parasitic infections of the brain. In fact, this type of infection is the most common cause of brain seizures throughout the world. The most common cause of this infection is eating diseased pork that has been infected with the tapeworm. The tapeworm will then stay in the small intestine until it reaches maturity and will then make the long trip to the brain, and this is where the real trouble begins.

The pork tapeworm creates small cysts when it attaches itself to brain tissue. Symptoms may vary depending on the exact location of the cysts. Common symptoms of these brain parasites include headaches, seizures, and dizziness. The eyes, muscles, and spinal cord may also be affected. Over time, the fluid found in the brain may become blocked, leading to brain swelling and permanent brain damage or even death.

Brain parasites known as amoebas are much less common than the pork tapeworm, although only a few people who have suffered from this type of parasitic infection have lived. The amoeba lives in contaminated water and infects the host by moving into the nose before traveling to the brain. The amoeba then eats the nerve cells of the brain, causing immediate and direct brain damage. Death from this type of parasite is generally quite rapid. Treatment for any parasitic infection of the brain may require the use of medications to reduce brain swelling, or in some cases surgery to remove the parasite may be necessary.

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