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Home » Robert F. Kennedy Jr had a brain-eating worm – that makes sense

Robert F. Kennedy Jr had a brain-eating worm – that makes sense

Lately, the news has been filled with all manner of craziness, but who would predict that we would wake up one morning to a report that anti-vaccine presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr had a “worm” in his brain?

If you have been reading this blog for the past few months, you know that I am not a fan of Kennedy, because of his anti-vaccine and anti-science nonsense. Maybe the brain-worm turned Kennedy into an anti-vaxxer. Maybe this brain worm explains some or all of his “thinking” about vaccines. As Orac just wrote, “Well, that explains an awful lot.”

Of course, this announcement by Kennedy made the meme industry blow up. Twitter had a field day (no, I am not calling it X). And political groups that I follow couldn’t help themselves making fun of Kennedy and a worm in his brain.

But since this is a science blog, let’s look at the science. Then, we’ll have a lot of fun.

kennedy brain worm

All about the Kennedy brain worm

I’m not a parasitologist, nor do I play one on the internet, so I will rely on the New York Times article and Orac’s blog, both of which cover some of the facts about this worm that munched on Kennedy’s brain.

The New York Times wrote:

In 2010, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was experiencing memory loss and mental fogginess so severe that a friend grew concerned he might have a brain tumor. Mr. Kennedy said he consulted several of the country’s top neurologists, many of whom had either treated or spoken to his uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, before his death the previous year of brain cancer.

Several doctors noticed a dark spot on the younger Mr. Kennedy’s brain scans and concluded that he had a tumor, he said in a 2012 deposition reviewed by The New York Times. Mr. Kennedy was immediately scheduled for a procedure at Duke University Medical Center by the same surgeon who had operated on his uncle, he said.

While packing for the trip, he said, he received a call from a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital who had a different opinion: Mr. Kennedy, he believed, had a dead parasite in his head.

The doctor believed that the abnormality seen on his scans “was caused by a worm that got into my brain and ate a portion of it and then died,” Mr. Kennedy said in the deposition.

So what was this “worm” that was eating his brain? First, doctors did not remove or isolate this “worm,” the diagnosis was based on scans that caused experts to believe that they observed a cyst that was the remains of a parasite in the brain.

According to the Times article, “Several infectious disease experts and neurosurgeons said in separate interviews with The Times that, based on what Mr. Kennedy described, they believed it was likely a pork tapeworm larva. The doctors have not treated Mr. Kennedy and were speaking generally.”

So what is a pork tapeworm? The tapeworm is known as Taenia solium and uses humans as its definitive host and pigs as the intermediate or secondary hosts. Pigs ingest the tapeworm eggs from human feces, which then develop into larvae and then into cysts within the muscles of the pigs. When humans consume undercooked pork, the cysts grow into adult worms in the human intestinal tract.

Star Trek geeks had a good laugh.

There are two forms of human infection. One is “primary hosting”, called taeniasis, due to eating undercooked pork that contains the cysts and results in adult worms in the intestines. This form generally is without symptoms — the infected person does not know they have tapeworms. This infection is easily treated with anthelmintic drugs that eliminate the tapeworm.

I know the jokes will start here, that Kennedy should take ivermectin, the favorite drug of COVID deniers. Unfortunately for better memes, ivermectin is not usually prescribed for tapeworms. We were so close.

The other form of pork tapeworm infection, “secondary hosting”, called cysticercosis, is due to eating food, or drinking water, contaminated with feces from someone infected by the adult worms, thus ingesting the tapeworm eggs, instead of the cysts. The eggs go on to develop cysts primarily in the muscles, and usually with no symptoms.

However, some people have more obvious symptoms of the cysts, with the most harmful and chronic form arising from when cysts form in the brain — this is what may have happened to Kennedy. Treatment of this form of parasitic infection is more difficult.

That probably was more than you wanted to know about pork tapeworm infections, but that might provide you with convincing evidence to avoid ingesting poorly cooked pork or accidentally consuming human feces.

Kennedy brain worm

Let’s have fun with the Kennedy brain worm

I am not going to blame his anti-vaccine nonsense on a brain-eating worm. No, he owns that because he’s been making anti-vaccine claims for years before the worm started eating his brain.

But it sure could explain a lot. Kennedy supports the real science behind climate change. He accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, yet rejects it for vaccines. I’ve always found this to be utterly hypocritical and inconsistent. Maybe the worm caused it.

What’s ironic about all of this is that Kennedy continues to claim he’s healthier and fitter than the other candidates for president, Joe Biden (who is pretty healthy and fit for a man his age) and Donald Trump (who is neither healthy nor fit, but that’s a story for another article). Kennedy seems to have other health issues, like atrial fibrillation, which can lead to strokes if not treated carefully.

I have been a big fan of Stephen Colbert ever since his days on Comedy Central years ago. His biting political satire always makes me laugh. Here are a couple of Colbert’s takes on the brain-eating worm.

And we will end with this:

Michael Simpson

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