Woman Contracts Parasitic
Worm In Her Brain From Pork Taco

What sounds like science fiction was all too real for Dawn Becerra, who found a parasitic worm lodged in her brain after eating a pork taco while vacationing in Mexico.
Doctors at Arizona's Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale believe the taco contained Taenia solium, a parasite that is surprisingly common in Latin American countries, and is often transmitted by eating undercooked pork.
Becerra said the snack made her ill for three weeks. And soon after, she began suffering seizures.
"I was tired and sick so it made it more difficult," she said. "I knew that this wasn't the way I wanted to live the rest of my life, with seizures."
She found that anti-seizure medication did not help her, and her condition worsened.
A Worm Inside Her Brain
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic discovered Becerra had neurocysticercosis - a lesion in her brain, caused by the parasitic worm.
Last November, she was told that if she wanted to live a normal, seizure-free life, she would need surgery.
As an egg, the worm attached itself to the intestinal wall, and eventually moved into her blood stream and to her brain, said Dr. Joseph Sirven, who operated on Becerra.
Once in the brain, the worm causes little harm until it eventually dies and decays, thereby inflaming surrounding tissue.
"It's after the worm dies that the body reacts to something foreign," Sirven explained.
"The thought of a worm being in your brain is very strange, very difficult to deal with," she said. But the thought of brain surgery wasn't easy to deal with, either.
"All of a sudden, I realized they were going to cut open my brain, and take a worm out of my brain" she said.
"That realization was devastating."
Six-Hour Operation to Find the Parasite
She underwent the six-hour procedure last week - awake the entire time, and using only acupuncture and a mild anesthesia to deal with the pain.
Doctors said they needed her conscious because the procedure would take them into an extremely sensitive area of the brain - and would have to talk to her during the operation to help keep track of what they were doing.
They spoke to the bilingual Becerra in both Spanish and English during the operation.
Eventually, they found the decayed worm and removed it - without doing any long-term damage to their patient.
"She was very lucky because she had only one cyst," said Sirven.
"She should be in good shape now."
Becerra is recovering quickly, and doctors say she won't need a check up for six months.
But it has still been a bizarre and difficult ordeal for her.
"The fascinating part about this is that it's much more common than people think," notes Sirven. And by cooking pork thoroughly, he says, "it's very, very preventable."
The World Health Organization says neurocysticercosis is a common cause of epilepsy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
ABCNEWS affiliate KNXV in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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