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Woman Feels Shocks in Legs, Parasite Found in Her Spine

Newsweek logo Newsweek 7/12/2018 Kashmira Gander

© kirisa99/Getty Images Her symptoms gradually got worse until she had to visit the ER.

For around three months, a woman in France was worried something was up with her legs. But when she was hit with electric shock-like pain in her legs, she knew she had to visit the emergency room. 

Tests revealed the cause of her pain was actually a parasitic tapeworm larva that had invaded her spine.

According to a case report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the unnamed Frenchwoman had struggled to ride her horse over the three-month period.

At the emergency room at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Dijon, she told doctors her legs felt weak, she was repeatedly falling and experienced pangs of electric shock-like pain. 

A physical examination confirmed the sensation in her legs was impaired, and she struggled to move her feet properly. 

Blood tests revealed her white blood cell count—a sign of infection in the body—had shot to 18,800: far above the normal range of 4,000 to 10,000.

And an MRI scan showed the woman had a lump in her vertebrae.

Doctors were forced to operate on her spine to remove the lesion. 

Tests on the foreign body showed it was an Echinococcus granulosus. The parasite is most commonly found in pets like dogs, as well as sheep, cattle, goats and pigs.

© Dr_Microbe/Getty Images

The woman hadn't been abroad recently, the report stated, but had a pet cat and had been in contact with cattle. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Echinococcus granulosus can grow between 2 to 7mm. In the rare cases that it infects humans, the parasite doesn’t often cause symptoms. However, it can trigger cysts that grow slowly in the central nervous system, organs including the liver and lungs, as well as the bones. But it can take years for these symptoms to become noticeable. 

A check-up after nine months showed the woman was clear of the parasite.

Echinococcus granulosusgenerally enters the body when an individual accidentally swallows the parasite's eggs. For instance, if a dog becomes infected it will be present in their stools. And if the dog comes into close contact with a human, or their feces contaminate soil or water, it can be passed on. 

The parasite has been reported across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Central and South America. It is less common in North America, but a few human cases have been identified in areas of Arizona and New Mexico, where sheep are bred.

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