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Anti-epileptic drugs may treat tapeworm-induced seizures

11 December, 2002

Researchers in Ecuador and the United States report that anti-epileptic medication is helping to reduce the number of seizures in people carrying the pork tapeworm taenia solium.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, reports that as many as one in 10 people in developing countries are carriers of the tapeworm which is now also increasingly common in more developed countries due to immigration, poverty, and areas of poor hygiene or minimum sanitation services. Neurocysticercosis (NC), an infection of the central nervous system caused by the larval form of the tapeworm, is associated with seizures, headache, and other neurological symptoms. Of these, seizures are the most common, occurring in nearly 90 per cent of all patients.

Researchers from the University of Cuenca in Ecuador and Columbia University in New York have identified the persistence of active NC brain lesions as key predictors of seizure recurrence.

The study group included 36 men and 41 women visiting the a hospital in Cuenca. CT scans were conducted upon initial diagnosis to identify lesions, or cysts, caused by the NC infection. Treatment for the infection included use of steroids and anti-epileptic drugs, and some patients also received anti-helminthics (to destroy the tapeworm), depending on physician preference.

By the end of the study period, seizures recurred in nearly a quarter of the 17 patients who had been experiencing multiple seizures, and in nearly half of the 59 patients who had experienced only a single seizure.

As recurrent seizure risk is substantial as long as there is ongoing evidence of lesions, the researchers recommend CT scanning and the continued use of anti-epileptic drugs until lesions are clear.