Neurocysticercosis

Larry E Davis MD (Dr. Davis of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.)
John E Greenlee MD, editor. (Dr. Greenlee of the University of Utah School of Medicine received an honorarium from Merck for authorship.)
Originally released December 7, 1993; last updated May 20, 2017; expires May 20, 2020

This article includes discussion of neurocysticercosis and "mealy" pork disease. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations.

Overview

Neurocysticercosis continues to be the most common CNS parasite and is becoming increasingly identified in the United States. Most patients in the United States present with seizures (focal or generalized) or headaches and have come from Mexico or Latin America. A new set of diagnostic criteria have been published. There are now 3 serological methods of diagnosing neurocysticercosis. A serum or CSF antibody assay, especially an enzyme-linked immunotransfer blot assay, is quite sensitive and specific, and is widely available. A new PCR-based assay to detect T. solium nucleic acid is more specific and is becoming more available. The third assay detects cysticercus antigen. This assay is the most valuable in diagnosing extraparenchymal neurocysticercosis in the ventricle or meninges and can be utilized to follow patient response to treatment. It appears that the cysticercus cyst releases specific proteins that induce an anti-inflammatory host response to prevent the host from destroying viable cerebral cysts. Although some controversy continues regarding the necessity of treating single neurocysticercosis cysts in developing countries, studies, including a 2013 guideline published in Neurology and a meta-analysis report, find that albendazole treatment significantly hastens the disappearance of cysts and reduces the incidence of seizures with generalization.

Key points

 

• Neurocysticercosis is the most common CNS parasite, with most U.S. cases coming from immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.

 

• Neurocysticercosis comes from eating viable cysts from human feces of individuals infected with the pork tapeworm and not from eating undercooked infected pork meat.

 

• So long as organisms remain viable in the brain, the patient is usually asymptomatic due to the parasite cyst producing proteins that prevent the host from initiating an inflammatory response to destroy the cyst.

 

• Seizures are the most common clinical manifestation, and headaches are the second most common.

 

• Diagnosis is usually made by demonstration of typical cysts on MRI or CT scan plus presence of cysticercosis enzyme-linked immunoelectrotransfer blot antibody assay in serum or CSF.

 

• Treatment of parenchymal cysts using albendazole with or without corticosteroids hastens disappearance of parenchymal cysts and reduces rate of seizure recurrence, but treatment of extraparenchymal cysts in meninges or ventricles is difficult and often requires ventricular shunting and repeated courses of albendazole and long-term steroids.

Historical note and terminology

Cysticercosis is a zoonotic infection involving pigs and man and has an ancient history (Del Brutto and Garcia 2015). Tapeworms have been found in 3000 B.C. Egyptian mummies. Human tapeworms were recognized by Hippocrates, and "mealy" pork containing cysticerci were described by Aristotle. Cysticercosis likely was recognized early on as dangerous to humans in that the ancient Hebrew Bible forbid consumption of pork and the ancient Koran also forbid pork consumption.

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