When Luis Ortiz, 26, of Napa, California, arrived at the hospital complaining of a headache and nausea, doctors were shocked to find a tapeworm larva had been living in his brain.
The larva, which was still alive, had caused a cyst to form that was restricting water flow to chambers in his brain. The situation was so dire that doctors said Ortiz only had about 30 more minutes to live.
"I was shocked," Ortiz told ABC News. "I just couldn't believe something like that would happen to me. I didn't know there was a parasite in my head trying to ruin my life."
Surgeons successfully removed the worm, but Ortiz did suffer from the effects of the surgery. According to ABC News, Ortiz had to drop out of school, move back home, and he is not allowed to drive or work.
Tapeworms and other parasitic worms are relatively common, and often come from eating infected, undercooked or raw pork. Another type of tapeworm can infect beef.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control say there are roughly 1,000 reported cases of tapeworms per year in the U.S., but that they are more common in developing countries with poor sanitation.
Symptoms of an infection can include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss and upset stomach, according to the CDC. People infected with a tapeworm may also pass segments of the worm in their feces.
The best way to avoid a tapeworm infection is to make sure meat is cooked to a temperature of at least 63 degrees Celsius, according to the CDC.
In other tapeworm news, the CDC says the parasite could spread cancer after studying the case of a Colombian man who died after “catching” the disease from a tapeworm that had infected him.