ON THE TRAIL OF TAPEWORM
THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER - Thursday, September 3, 1992
How a Parasite of pork attacks Orthodox Jews
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
It was a mystery: How could Orthodox Jews who keep kosher in New York City catch tapeworms that usually afflict people who eat pork in Central America?
Forget the patient's medical history. In every case, the common denominator was a baby sitter or housekeeper.
The affair came to light last summer when a 6-year-old Brooklyn boy was stricken with a seizure while his family drove to the New Jersey shore. They turned around and took him to New York University Medical Center, where doctors feared he had a brain tumor.
The youngster was scheduled for neurosurgery when Dr. Jose Munoz, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases, found the real cause. A CT scan showed two cysts in the boy's brain. They were the larval stage of taenia solium - the pork tapeworm.
The tapeworm is common in parts of Mexico and elsewhere in Central America, where people get it from eating poorly cooked infected pigs. But pork sold in the United States almost never carries the parasite, and this boy's family followed Jewish dietary rules. They never touched pork.
Americans also sometimes get the worm when they go to places where it is common. However, this
patient and his family had not traveled.
Dr. Deborah Persaud, questioned the boy's mother and discovered the family had used 16 different baby sitters from Central America.
We were initially very confused," Munoz said. "But by the end of the first day, there was no doubt that was what had to be going on."
Munoz called Dr. Peter Schantz, an authority on parasitic diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. During that summer, Schantz heard of two other cases of the tapeworm from Orthodox Jewish families in the same part of Brooklyn, and he learned of another case there that had been treated a year earlier.
Schantz and two CDC colleagues conducted a formal investigation. Starting with the four initial victims, they checked 17 immediate family members and found that seven from two families also had been exposed to the tapeworm.
In every case, the Common denominator was a baby sitter or housekeeper from Central America.
Schantz, Munoz and other doctors involved wrote up their findings for today's New England Journal of Medicine.
Carrying worm eggs
The doctors believe that in each case, housekeepers unknowingly carried tapeworms in their intestines and contaminated the family's food with worm eggs. People's skin, clothing and dirt under their fingernails can harbor the eggs.
In the section of Brooklyn where the outbreak occurred, most of the 6,000 or so families employ housekeepers, and about 90% of them are from Latin American countries where, the tapeworm is common.
The researchers noted that people who carry the tapeworms and risk infecting others can be cured with a single dose of the drug