Unsans Hands Cause Brain Pain

28 Jan

This is unbelievably and undeniably creepy and gross, but it’s just as unbelievably and undeniably true, which makes it unbelievably and undeniably SCARY. And yes, you still need to watch it.  Preferably on an empty stomach and not before you’re sitting down to eat.  I’ve warned you as thoroughly as I can, so take a deep breath and press play…come on, be brave…

Thanks, Gary.

Parasites infect us all the time. They live in our bodies, even in our cells, and most of the time we do not even know they are there. The brain, which has structures preventing many of our immune system’s cells from entering (at least in the early stages of infection) and receives lots of oxygen and plenty of nutrients, is an enticing environment for some parasites.

Setting up house in the brain is difficult, though, because of the tightly sealed blood-brain barrier between the blood vessels and brain fluid, which keeps most things from getting through to the brain.  Once the parasite manages to cross the blood-brain barrier, it will have to fight off attacks by the immune system.  Really evolved parasites, unfortunately, can fake out the immune system and those are the ones we need to worry about.

These parasites are more common in countries with poor sanitary conditions where pigs are allowed to roam freely and eat human feces, but as you will have learned in the video, there are increasingly more incidents here in the US.  The pork tapeworm, Taenia solium, is one of the two most common disease-causing brain parasites (the other is the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which has been found in small lakes during the height of summer here in Florida).  The pork tapeworm infects over 50 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of brain seizures. It is usually contracted from eating undercooked pork, and people of a certain age will remember learning about this in elementary school (I don’t know if this is still taught in the public school system, but apparently it needs to be).  The worm usually attaches to the intestine and grows to be several feet long, but under certain circumstances these worms can invade the brain, where thankfully they don’t grow to be quite so large.

If the parasite is in the larval stage of its life cycle when it enters the human body, it attaches to the intestinal wall and stays there.  However, if the parasite is in the egg stage, the egg(s) attaches and embeds itself in the intestinal wall, where it hatches.  From there, the larvae can easily cross into the bloodstream and travel to the brain, where it is thought to excrete an enzyme that dissolves the blood-brain barrier, granting access to the brain’s gray matter and fluid.

Since the immune system cells can’t easily cross the blood-brain barrier during the early stages of infection, the parasite gets partial protection from accidental encounters with the antibodies, phagocytes and complement proteins that could do it in. Only when the immune system gets into full swing can the immune cells enter the brain in large numbers.  Additionally, once settled into the brain, the larvae develops into a cyst-like structure and this cyst can degrade any antibodies that attach to it, use the antibodies as a food source, and coax the immune system into making more antibodies for it (like a freaking food farm)!  The cyst can even disguise itself as part of the host’s body by displaying proteins on its surface that identify it as part of the host and release molecules that act as decoys, tricking the killer complement proteins into leaving it alone and keep it from being eaten.

As you can now tell, the cyst/tapeworm is very successful in evading the immune system.  It may take many years, but it will eventually become more and more vulnerable to attack. As the body’s immune system response gains strength, the most common symptoms of infection become more and more obvious. At first, the parasite will simply be unable to hide from the immune cells and can’t pretend to be part of the host’s body anymore.  Then the full immune system response kicks in, and because the immune cells can now fully detect the parasite, the parasite is doomed.  More antibodies and complement proteins are released, more phagocytes are born, and more blood and immune cells rush to the parasitic site.  The area where the parasite is housed becomes swollen, which often leads to seizures and compression of the surrounding brain tissue. As the war progresses, the cyst dies and is replaced by scar tissue and finally by calcium deposits. The scar tissue and calcium deposits are also known to cause seizures. In addition, the immune response causes irreparable brain damage to the areas of the brain around the cyst as the phagocytes eat up the cells surrounding the cyst, which also contributes to the seizures.  The immune system actually causes more brain damage than the actual parasite, but for the parasitic invastion the immune system would never have been activated.

The cycle starts with a human infected with the tapeworm.  The infection is then spread one of two ways:  (1) An infected person fails to thoroughly wash their hands after using the restroom, touches food items, contaminates the food items with tapeworm eggs or larvae, someone consumes the food items, and another victim becomes infected, and (2) Pigs are allowed to roam freely, eat human feces containing tapeworm eggs or larvae, become infected, their flesh is eaten undercooked by someone, and another victim becomes infected.

According to the Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom,

It’s very important to make sure poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs are properly cooked all the way through.  If you’re checking a burger, sausage, or portion of chicken or pork for doneness, cut into the middle and check there is no pink meat left. The meat should also be piping hot in the middle.

If you’re checking a whole chicken or other bird, pierce the thickest part of the leg (between drumstick and thigh) with a clean knife or skewer until the juices run out. The juices shouldn’t have any pink or red in them.

Kidneys, liver and other types of offal should be cooked thoroughly until they are piping hot all the way through.

It’s fine to eat steaks and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare, as long as they have been properly ‘sealed’. Steaks are usually sealed in a frying pan over a high heat.

It’s important to seal meat to kill any bacteria that might be on the outside. You can tell that a piece of meat has been properly sealed because all the outside will have changed colour.

It’s OK to serve beef and lamb joints rare too, as long as the joint is a single piece of meat, not a rolled joint (made from different pieces of meat rolled together).

But pork joints and rolled joints shouldn’t be served rare. To check these types of joint are properly cooked, put a skewer into the centre of the joint. The juices shouldn’t have any pink or red in them.

Remember, you shouldn’t eat these types of meat rare:

  • poultry
  • pork
  • burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets
  • rolled joints
  • kebabs

This is because these types of meat can have bacteria[/parasites] all the way through them. So if they aren’t properly cooked then any bacteria[/parasites] in the meat might not be killed.

So, (1) ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY and (2) ALWAYS THOROUGHLY COOK YOUR PORK PRODUCTS and if you’re lucky you’ll never have Brain Pain caused by Unsanitary Hands.

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One Response to “Unsans Hands Cause Brain Pain”

  1. Nicole January 29, 2009 at 6:03 PM #

    I am seriously going to forward this to everyone I know. I am glad I watched this on an empty stomach….

    *~Nicole

    PS new blogs have been posted

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