Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Discovery APL gives us biology lesson on internal parasites

On Aug. 5, The Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet aired a scary one-hour documentary “The Monsters Inside Me: Living with the Enemy”.

Most parasites (either protozoa or multicellular animals, often primitive worms) do not kill their hosts but are extremely difficult to remove.

The first episode showed a young woman whose brain had been infected with tapeworms from eating undercooked pork or possibly through a more complicated process. Cysts had formed in her brain; aggressive drug treatment seemed to work, but the worms came back and eventually surgery had to drain pressure from her brain.

The second episode showed a Midwestern young man with toxoplasmosis, which he acquired as a boy from farm dirt, in the retina. It destroyed one eye, and then he eventually needed an injection right into the other eye in a last-ditch attempt to prevent blindness. He was HIV negative, but toxoplasmosis is a common opportunistic infection of HIV and often causes deadly encephalitis in people with AIDS. Toxoplasmosis is carried by feral cats transmitted from rats.

The last episode documented a young woman with malaria. The disease causes sudden spiking fevers and can hide from the immune system in the liver. Sometimes people with malaria are encouraged to live in colder climates.

The APL link with more gruesome parasite videos is here.

Thank you, Animal Planet, for a biology lesson. Remember dissecting planaria in high school biology lab? Remember drawing and labeling?

Attribution link for p.d. picture of a tapeworm (Cestoda) in Wikipedia.

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