It’s a popular Chinese fondue with a yummy array of sauces and ingredients, but for one 46-year-old Chinese construction worker, his love of the dish left him with a cluster of terrible symptoms. This is according to researchers at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University who published a paper last month, detailing the man’s horrific experience.
The report mentions that Zhu (not his real name) started feeling dizzy, having headaches and experiencing epilepsy-like symptoms, such as limb-twitching and mouth foaming, while trying to sleep at night. When his co-workers witnessed one of his episodes at work, they called for emergency help. Zhu was then rushed to hospital where scans later revealed that he had multiple intracranial calcifications (calcium build-up in the brain), abnormal deposits of calcium in blood vessels to the brain, and several intracranial lesions, the report adds.
However, upon the request of medical staff to examine him further, Zhu dismissed their concerns, causing the symptoms to continue. He eventually decided to seek medical treatment at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University, where the hospital’s chief doctor, Dr Huang Jianrong, learned that Zhu had eaten suspect pork and mutton about a month prior to his consultation.
After undergoing an MRI, it was discovered that Zhu had been suffering from multiple brain lesions and tapeworms in the brain, which finally shed light on the symptoms he had been experiencing.
How does a hotpot broth lead to tapeworms in the brain?
Researchers explained that it was likely that the meat used for the hotpot was tainted with larval tapeworms that survived because Zhu hadn't cooked it properly.
The report also goes on to explain that Zhu admitted to simply simmering the meat and said that because the bottom of the pot was red, he was unable to determine whether the meat was thoroughly cooked or not.
However, after being dewormed and having the pressure on his brain reduced by doctors, the man fully recovered.
What Zhu experienced is known as neurocysticercosis, a parasitic infection in the brain that’s caused by the tapeworm Taenia solium. When people become infected, the parasite can enter the body in two ways, explains the World Health Organization (WHO). The most common way is when the adult tapeworm is ingested in undercooked pork and ends up living in the gut. The other way is when people who have the adult form in their bodies shed microscopic eggs in their stool, they pass these on to other people, especially if they don't wash their hands thoroughly.
According to the researchers, because the brain has the largest blood circulation in the body, it is commonly affected by the parasite that is contracted through contaminated meat or water. This can cause severe brain damage that can end up being fatal – which means Zhu was lucky to make a full recovery.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper in March this year, detailing an 18-year-old Indian man’s experience of the same disease, which eventually caused his death. More recently, the Washington Post reported on a 42-year-old New York woman who hosted a baby tapeworm. She had been battling with insomnia and hallucinations, but after the tapeworm was removed, her symptoms disappeared “almost 100%”.
According to the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Pathology Learning Centre, in 2004 it was estimated that there were 34 500 neurocysticercosis-associated cases of epilepsy in the Eastern Cape.
Tips to enjoy your hotpot safely
Prevention is the main way to avoid contracting parasitic diseases, according to the study. Researchers, however, added that there are a few important safety rules to abide by when preparing food:
- Ensure that you use separate chopping boards for raw and cooked foods.
- Cook pork thoroughly, and avoid eating raw meat.
- Wash your hands properly before and after meals.
- Do not eat pork of unknown origin.