After This Man Ate Undercooked Pork, Doctors Spotted Something Moving Inside His Brain

In November 2019, Zhu Zhong-fa felt the urge to visit a medical facility after displaying some concerning symptoms. He was suffering with severe headaches and had experienced a number of seizures, prompting him to act. But following an examination, the doctors went on to give Zhu a truly shocking diagnosis.

When preparing food, we need to take several precautions to ensure our safety. From washing our hands to cleaning the workspace, these little things can make a big difference in that regard. Alongside that, we also have to make sure that dishes containing meat are cooked properly before serving them up.

Indeed, if we consume under-cooked meat, we run the risk of getting food poisoning, which can make us pretty sick. Prior to Zhu’s trip to the hospital, he believed that he might’ve eaten something that wasn’t prepared properly. A resident of Hangzhou, China, the construction employee worried that a recent meal had caused his symptoms.

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The dish in question was said to be a hot pot, which contained ingredients including vegetables and pork. After Zhu ate his portion, he feared that the meat might’ve been under-cooked, as his symptoms flared up during that period. However, no one could’ve predicted what the doctors eventually found a few weeks later.

For many people across the world, there are few things better than tucking into their favorite meal at the end of a long day. Whether it’s a pizza or a certain pasta dish, these spreads really hit the spot when hunger strikes. Unsurprisingly, though, it can take a bit of work to put everything together.

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Like we previously mentioned, preparation is key when it comes to cooking, regardless of the dish. But if you’re working with any kind of meat, you have to be especially careful, as even a slight misjudgement could cause problems. Should you under-cook it, you’ll be putting yourself at risk of consuming hazardous bacteria.

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Indeed, you might come across germs such as E. coli and salmonella if you under-cook certain meats. As a result, that bacteria can leave you unwell for a period of time. These issues can be easily avoided, though, if you properly cook the meat, as that will eliminate the pathogens before you serve up the dish.

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While we’ve touched upon a couple of the more recognizable strains of bacteria that cause food poisoning, they aren’t the only ones. For you see, certain cuts of under-cooked pork can contain a parasitic worm known as “Trichinella.” If you eat that, the parasite will then bring about an ailment called trichinellosis.

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To explain more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed the matter via its official website. The agency revealed which animals are likely to be carrying the parasite, alongside the symptoms you need to look out for. But that’s not all, though, as we’re about to find out.

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The CDC post read, “Trichinellosis, also called trichinosis, is caused by eating raw or under-cooked meat of animals infected with the larvae of a species of worm called Trichinella. Infection occurs commonly in certain wild carnivorous animals such as bears or cougars, or omnivorous animals such as domestic pigs or wild boar.”

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“The signs, symptoms, severity and duration of trichinellosis [can] vary,” the post continued. “Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever and abdominal discomfort are often the first symptoms of trichinellosis.” In addition to that, you can also experience headaches, irritated skin, facial swelling and constipation, too. But the issues don’t end there.

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If you have a serious bout of trichinellosis, your heart could be affected as well. Due to that, the condition can kill you in a worst case scenario. Yet for those who are only suffering from a “mild” form of the infection, the previously mentioned signs should clear up after a number of months.

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Furthermore, the CDC went on to talk about how the symptoms develop in people once they’ve consumed the raw pork. As it turns out, it takes a little bit of time for the signs to first appear. However, due to the nature of these initial indicators, some people might confuse them with an entirely different problem.

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The CDC post explained, “Abdominal symptoms can occur one to two days after [picking up the] infection. Further symptoms usually start two to eight weeks after eating [the] contaminated meat. Often, mild cases of trichinellosis are never specifically diagnosed and are assumed to be the flu or other common illnesses.”

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From there, the CDC then took a closer look at the infection itself, describing the process in great detail. “When a human or animal eats meat that contains infective Trichinella cysts,” the post continued, “the acid in the stomach dissolves the hard covering of the cyst and releases the worms.”

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The post added, “The worms pass into the small intestine and, in one to two days, become mature. After mating, [the] adult females lay eggs. The eggs [then] develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries, and are transported to muscles. Within the muscles, the worms curl into a ball and encyst.”

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But while all of this might leave you somewhat reluctant to cook pork, the CDC made another revelation. For you see, trichinellosis isn’t as “common” as it once was in America, with very few instances cropping up in recent times. As for why that’s the case, the agency cited an important moment from the past.

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The post read, “Infection used to be more common [in the United States], and was usually caused by ingestion of under-cooked pork. However, infection is now relatively rare. During 2008 to 2012, 15 cases were reported per year on average. The number of cases decreased beginning in the mid-20th century, because of legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw-meat garbage to hogs.”

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Alongside that, the CDC claimed that the cases were curbed after the affected pieces of pork were exposed to freezers. The agency also credited the American people for showing more “awareness” on the subject of raw meats. After all, if you know the risks, you’re more likely to take the correct precautions in the kitchen.

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Unfortunately for one Chinese man, though, he put himself in danger after eating a portion of under-cooked pork in the fall of 2019. Zhu Zhong-fa sat down to enjoy a hot pot, which contained the aforementioned meat. He eventually finished the dish, despite showing some concern about the state of the contents.

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Indeed, Zhu believed that the pork might not have been prepared correctly, but he couldn’t be sure at the time. This was due, in part, to the broth that it was served in. The Hangzhou resident subsequently struggled to examine the meat, and was unable to confirm if it was fit for consumption.

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From there, Zhu began to develop some worrying symptoms in the following weeks, including a painful headache. Given what we now know about trichinellosis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this might be another case of it. Yet the construction employee was experiencing a few other problems as well, which we’re about to discover.

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Zhu also had to face down a number of seizures, causing his mouth to foam. And on top of that, he was passing out at regular intervals, too, which led him to make a significant decision. Fearing that something could be seriously wrong with him, he traveled to a local medical facility.

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Zhu turned up at Zhejiang University’s First Affiliated Hospital of College of Medicine, hoping for some answers. For you see, prior to making the journey, his own physicians couldn’t pinpoint what the problem actually was. So with that in mind, the doctors at the facility had an interesting suggestion for him.

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With a physician named Huang Jianrong leading the way, Zhu was asked to undergo an MRI scan at the hospital. By doing that, Dr. Huang and his colleagues could take a closer look at their patient’s brain. The group, however, was greeted by a truly shocking sight when they gazed upon the results.

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Incredibly, Zhu’s brain was harboring hundreds of tapeworms, which explained his uncomfortable symptoms. At that stage, the doctors asked if he’d come into contact with any raw meat recently, stirring his memory of the pork in the hot pot. Off the back of that information, a diagnosis was subsequently made.

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By eating the under-cooked pork, Zhu had inadvertently consumed a parasite called Taenia solium. Otherwise referred to as the “pork tapeworm,” this organism can trigger a serious condition known as neurocysticercosis. And unfortunately for the Hangzhou resident, that was exactly what he had, after the tapeworms multiplied inside his body.

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On that note, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided some more information on the subject via its official website. The post read, “Neurocysticercosis is a preventable, parasitic infection of the central nervous system and is caused by the pork tapeworm Taenia solium. Humans become infected after consuming under-cooked food, particularly pork.”

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The WHO post continued, “Taeniasis is the intestinal infection of the adult tapeworm. When left untreated, a more serious condition known as cysticercosis develops, as T. solium larvae invade body tissues. When larvae build up in the central nervous system, muscles, skin and eyes, it leads to neurocysticercosis – the most severe form of the disease and a common cause of seizures worldwide.”

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As for how the pigs themselves become infected, the organization provided a stomach-churning explanation. The animals pick up the parasite through human waste, leading the tapeworms to feed off their bodies. In turn, the same thing happens when people eat the affected pork, which Zhu can certainly relate to now.

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Furthermore, WHO revealed where the issue is most common. The post read, “For decades, Latin America has had a serious problem with cysticercosis and neurocysticercosis. The disease is endemic in South and South-East Asia, and is emerging in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries, a lack of awareness and understanding about the condition means it’s largely a neglected disease.”

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Going back to Zhu’s case, he received some more troubling news as the examinations continued. The tapeworms hadn’t just traveled up into his brain; many more were also occupying his lungs and torso. In total, it’s believed that the construction employee was housing over 700 organisms in those areas of his body.

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When looking at that shocking number, you may be wondering how the physicians at the hospital could treat Zhu. To explain more, Huang opened up during an interview with U.K. newspaper The Sun in November 2019. According to the doctor, they had to administer some very specific medication to get the job done.

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“[Zhu] not only had numerous space-occupying lesions in his brain, he also had cysts in his lungs and chest muscles,” said Huang. “Different patients respond differently to the infection depending on where the parasites [are]. In this case, he had seizures and lost consciousness, but others with cysts in their lungs might cough a lot.”

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Huang added, “We killed the larvae using antiparasitic drugs, and prescribed medication to protect [Zhu’s] organs and reduce any side effects brought on by the treatment. Phase one of the treatment has now concluded after a successful week. Now we’ll run further tests.” But while the medicine appeared to have the desired effect, not everyone with neurocysticercosis is so lucky.

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A few months before Zhu’s case came to light, an Indian teenager was diagnosed with the disease in March 2019. In that instance, the young man was having seizures and suffered with a swollen right eye. Eventually, he was admitted Faridabad’s ESIC Medical College and Hospital, where he got an MRI.

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From there, the physicians discovered that the pork tapeworms had caused damage to the teenager’s brain. In addition to that, the parasites had been feeding off his swollen eye and his testicles as well. Sadly, the 18-year-old’s condition didn’t improve with treatment, as he passed away a couple of weeks later.

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Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about contracting this particular disease, there are ways to avoid it. Much like with trichinellosis, you can take out the parasitic tapeworms by cooking your pork thoroughly when in the kitchen. In terms of temperature, it’s believed that a reading of around 145 degrees should do the trick.

Alongside that, you can eliminate the tapeworms via your freezer too, although the pork must be kept in there for at least a day. Either method should protect you from neurocysticercosis going forward. But while the condition is prevalent in certain parts of the world, America has largely avoided it.

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It’s reported that the U.S. registers around 1,000 cases of neurocysticercosis per year. However, most of those instances involve people who moved to the country from different parts of the globe. As for Zhu, his doctors couldn’t confirm if the damage he suffered would have any “long-term effects,” regardless of the treatment’s success.

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