Grey’s Anatomy is not known for its medical accuracy, but as a veteran ER watcher, I think they should do better. The “overlooked epidemic of tapeworms in the brain (neurocysticercosis)” was featured, incorrectly, in an episode: “Before and After” – SE05EP15.
The reality, according to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, is much different. As you can see in the Wikipedia article, the prognosis isn’t nearly as good.
The reason it’s featured incorrectly is because of the way the neurosurgeon behaves: Shepherd does the operation, when in the real world, no responsible neurosurgeon would ever consider doing it before first making the patient try a medication approach rather than a surgical one. And as if that weren’t enough, the patient lives through the procedure and makes a full and miraculous recovery.
Another error in the episode is when the patient says he thinks he got the parasite from eating fruit in Mexico. Wrong. These critters are passed between pigs and humans.
This article also points out that the first-line treatment for this disease isn’t neurosurgery. It’s medication: specifically, anti-parasitics and, when appropriate, immunosuppressants. An example of an immunosuppressant drug is prednisone. More commonly, prednisone is used to treat auto-immune diseases such as lupus.
The best neurosurgeons are the ones who do everything possible to keep a patient out of the OR.
The article concludes:
“Although finding a better cure is important, Nash is more interested in preventing tapeworms from getting into human brains in the first place by breaking their life cycle. A favored strategy is identifying people who have adult tapeworms in their bodies and giving them drugs to kill the parasites. It is also possible to vaccinate pigs so that they destroy tapeworm eggs as soon as they ingest them.
None of this is rocket science—which makes Nash all the more frustrated that so little is being done. “I see this as a disease that can be treated and prevented,” he says. But there are precious few resources available for treatment and little recognition of the problem. “All of this seems to be very feasible, but nobody wants to do anything about it.””
Good thing not all doctors are as reckless in the real world.