A man from China who loved to eat raw beef has spent two years being examined by different doctors because of stomach pains.
The doctors treated him for chronic anemia and stomachache but the 38-year-old man's abdominal pain along with other symptoms such as vomiting, anorexia, drastic weight loss and general weakness was caused by something more bizarre.
Doctors found out he was infected with a parasite after studying his feces and finding tapeworm eggs in the stool. The man was prescribed a drug to counter the parasitic infection and a laxative. Two and half hours later, the patient excreted a 20-foot long tapeworm.
The parasite, found to be Taenia saginata, or beef tapeworm, attached to his small intestine and was possibly inside him for at least two years.
Eping Guo and Jian Li of the Hubei University of Medicine in Shiyan, China, who diagnosed the patient, said that the tapeworm can be ingested with consumption of raw beef known to carry the parasite. The man likely got the parasite from the food in his diet.
"The patient received a diagnosis of Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm) infection. Humans become infected with T. saginata by ingesting cysticerci during consumption of raw or inadequately cooked beef," Guo and Li wrote in their case report, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 21.
"The tapeworm attaches to the small intestine and can grow to be several meters in length. Humans are the only definitive hosts," they added.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that cattle can be infected with T. saginata when the animals are out to pasture in areas of poor sanitation and consume the parasite's eggs, which are passed in human feces.
Tapeworm eggs and larvae from raw or undercooked beef of a contaminated cow can go into the small intestine and attach themselves to the intestinal wall where they develop and mature into an adult tapeworm.
Dr. Peter Hotez from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas explained that tapeworms can live for years in the intestines and cause mild or no symptoms at all but it takes a long time for these parasites to grow as long as the one from the patient from China.
The patient has made a full recovery after excreting the 20-foot parasite and has since changed his diet. After three months, he no longer showed symptoms and showed improvement in his appetite and weight.