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Tapeworm Infects Man, Gives Him Cancer

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Let us never assume that we know anything about anything—especially cancer. Medical understanding of the disease was challenged again this week by a case study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that describes the story of an HIV-positive man who died of cancer he contracted from a tapeworm.

The tapeworm in question, Hymenolepis nana, was uniquely qualified for the job. H. nana is the world’s most common human tapeworm, infecting as many as 75 million people. The parasite’s presence usually doesn’t produce any symptoms; most people don’t even realize they’ve got one.

In addition to its stealth, H. nana has a special talent: sticking around. Every other tapeworm hatches in one host, and then needs to move into another to grow and reproduce. Not H. nana. It can stay put for generations, especially in people with fragile immune systems.

A fragile immune system was what brought the 41-year-old Colombian man to the doctor in the first place. The man had been diagnosed with HIV seven years earlier, but for one reason or another, he had not kept up with his medication. As a result, his immune system was weakened and he was especially susceptible to infection. By the time he came to the clinic, the man was feverish, fatigued, and coughing, and had steadily been losing weight for months.

Doctors found H. nana eggs in the man’s stool, confirming an infection. Tests of his lungs, liver, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands revealed a constellation of tumors ranging in size from 0.16 to 1.7 inches, and biopsies of the tumors revealed something very strange. The tumor cells were malignant and growing, but they were way, way too small to be human. DNA tests confirmed it: The man definitely had cancer … but it wasn’t his. It was his tapeworm’s. The patient passed away just three days later.

To say that this case is unusual would be an understatement. Contagious cancers do exist in dogs and Tasmanian devils, and this year scientists discovered a form of contagious clam leukemia. But as far as we know, cancer doesn’t pass from one species into another. Humans don’t get other animals’ cancer. 

This case was special, says Tommy Leung, a parasitologist at the University of New England. “I don’t think anyone has seen anything like it before,” he said in an email to mental_floss. Leung believes the cancer transmission was possible due to a confluence of three factors: the tapeworm’s endurance; the patient’s compromised immune system; and a mutation in the H. nana larva that transformed run-of-the-mill cancer into an infectious disease.

So should we start freaking out about tapeworm cancer? Absolutely not. It’s possible that this has happened before and been overlooked, paper co-author Peter Olson told IFL Science. "But the report is not that there is a new health risk that people should be worried about," he said.

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Why You Might Not Want to Order Tea or Coffee On Your Next Flight
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A cup of tea or coffee at 40,000 feet may sound like a great way to give yourself an extra energy boost during a tiring trip, but it might be healthier to nap away your fatigue—or at least wait until hitting ground to indulge in a caffeine fix. Because, in addition to being tepid and watery, plane brew could be teeming with germs and other harmful life forms, according to Business Insider.

Multiple studies and investigations have taken a closer look at airplane tap water, and the results aren’t pretty—or appetizing. In 2002, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that looked at water samples taken from 14 different flights from 10 different airlines. Reporters discovered “a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs," they wrote.

And they added, "Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits."

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that water supplies on 15 percent of 327 national and international commercial aircrafts were contaminated to varying degrees [PDF]. This all led up to the 2011 Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, an EPA initiative to make airlines clean up. But in 2013, an NBC investigation found that at least one out of every 10 commercial U.S. airplanes still had issues with water contamination.

Find out how airplane water gets so gross, and why turning water into coffee or tea isn’t enough to kill residual germs by watching Business Insider’s video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Why You Should Never Flush Dental Floss Down the Toilet
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Dental floss may be good for our teeth, but it’s bad for our sewer systems—which is why you should never flush the stringy product down the toilet.

Home toilets are designed with our convenience and hygiene in mind, but some people have taken to using them as de facto trash cans, flushing wet wipes, paper towels, feminine products, and other items. While gone from your bathroom in the blink of an eye, these waste products don’t just disappear into some magical abyss: They end up mucking up our pipes and pumps, causing problems at wastewater treatment plants and, in some extreme cases, merging with congealed oils, grease, fat, and waste to form noxious blobs called fatbergs.

Meanwhile, some wastewater treatment plant employees claim to have discovered everything from baseballs to cash to underwear—indicating that people are flushing far more than just household and sanitary products.

Compared to the objects above, dental floss—which is made from thin strands of nylon or Teflon—seems like it should be the least of any sewage worker’s concerns. And as you ready for bed, it’s probably far easier to toss your floss into the toilet than to remember to regularly empty the tiny trash can under your sink.

But since dental floss isn’t biodegradable, it doesn’t dissolve in its watery grave. Instead, it can combine with clumps of hair, toilet paper, wipes, sanitary products, and other gross stuff to form large clumps that clog sewers and pumps, sanitary companies told HuffPost. These blobs can also combine with tree roots and grease, cause sewage spills, and harm the motors in septic systems.

These instances aren't just inconvenient, they're also costly, as they result "in the need for local agencies that own and operate sewer systems to spend more money on maintenance to keep the sewers and pumps clear,” a spokesperson for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County told HuffPost.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t floss regularly, but from here on out, the only things you should be flushing down the toilet are human waste and toilet paper.

For a clear idea of what other kinds of things shouldn’t be going down our drains, check out the video below, which was created by the City of Spokane Department of Wastewater Management and shared in partnership with the Water Environment Federation.

[h/t The Huffington Post]

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