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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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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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Don't Pour Alcohol on Your Bed Bugs—Try These Tips Instead
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Getting bed bugs is a nightmare experience, one that’s sure to cost you oodles of time, money, and emotional distress. The bugs are painfully hard to purge from your household, and it’s getting even harder as they become more resistant to common insecticides. Unfortunately, home remedies are often no match for these parasitic insects. Dousing them with rubbing alcohol (a tip you'll often hear) won’t kill them; in fact, it might just burn your house down, as a woman trying to rid her Cincinnati apartment of bed bugs found out recently. As The Washington Post reported, the alcohol in that case was too close to the flame of a candle or some type of incense, and ignited. It wasn't an isolated incident.

In the last 10 years or so, people trying to kill bed bugs with alcohol have started several house fires across the U.S., including a different incident in Cincinnati just two weeks ago. So short of burning down your entire house and starting over, how do you get rid of them?

The short answer is: Give up on the idea of saving money and call an exterminator. According to 2014 research, plenty of DIY bed bug-killing remedies are woefully ineffective. Rubbing alcohol, in fact, only killed half of the insects sprayed by the Rutgers University researchers in that study. Researchers have found that other recommended home remedies, like moth balls, foggers, or ultrasonic bug repellers, are even less effective. And don’t even think about using “natural” type products that use essential oils as the main ingredient. They might smell nice, but they won’t help your bug problem.

But before you call in the big guns, there are a few effective, concrete steps you can take to reduce your infestation. As Rutgers bedbug specialists Changlu Wang and Richard Cooper wrote in their bed bug fact sheet, putting your belongings in plastic storage bins or garbage bags is a good place to start. Since the bugs don’t like to climb on smooth plastic, this can help contain the infestation. Just make sure to treat whatever you’re putting inside the bags or bins first by putting them through the hot laundry, steaming, heating, or freezing them.

You’ll need a mattress encasement, too. This will keep the bugs that have already infested your mattress from escaping, meaning they won’t be able to feast on you anymore and will die of starvation. Nor will any new bugs be able to get inside to nest. You’ll want to make sure it’s a scientifically tested brand, though, since not all mattress encasements are bite-proof or escape-proof for bed bugs. (Most experts recommend the Protect-a-Bed BugLock encasement, which costs about $81 for the queen-sized version.)

Next, pick up some bed bug traps. Set them up under the legs of your furniture and around the perimeter of rooms to help detect new infestations and reduce existing ones. According to Wang and Cooper, a one-bedroom apartment might need eight to 12 of these traps, while bigger apartments will require more.

You’ll want to expose all your belongings to extreme temperatures before you even think about touching them again. Putting them through the washer/dryer on its hottest setting will do the trick to kill both bugs and their eggs, but if you need to eradicate bugs lurking in items you can’t wash, you can freeze them in plastic bags (as long as your freezer gets down to 0°F). You can also kill them with a steam cleaner, especially if you need to purge them from your couch or other upholstered furniture.

If you’ve still got a large number of bugs lurking in your house, you can tackle them with a vacuum cleaner, sucking them out of seams, zippers, trim, and other furniture crevices. But you’ll want to use a stocking or some other method of protecting your vacuum from being infested itself. (See Figure 6 here.)

Some research has also found that desiccant dusts that dehydrate bugs to death, like diatomaceous earth and silica gel, can be effective at controlling bed bug infestations (silica gel in particular) when spread around the perimeters of rooms, on bed frames and couches, and on furniture legs.

As we mentioned before, you’ll probably want to consult a professional even if you do all of the above, because if you miss even one bug or egg, you'll be back to where you started. The cost of an exterminator pales in comparison to the cost of throwing out everything you own, moving homes, and then realizing you’ve brought the bed bugs with you anyway.

The bad news for anyone who’s already infested is that prevention really is key when it comes to bed bugs. So brush up on what the pests look like, make sure to check your hotel room for them when you travel, and if you spot them in your apartment, make sure to warn your neighbors.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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