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Hidden Epidemic: 
Tapeworms Living Inside People's Brains
Discover ^ | 5/15/12 | Carl Zimmer

Posted on 05/19/2012 5:44:54 PM PDT by LibWhacker

Hidden Epidemic: 
Tapeworms Living Inside People's Brains

05.15.2012

Parasitic worms leave millions of victims paralyzed, epileptic, or worse. So why isn’t anyone mobilizing to eradicate them?

by Carl Zimmer


A human brain overrun with cysts from Taenia solium, a tapeworm that normally inhabits the muscles of pigs.

Courtesy of Theodore E. Nash , M.D.

Theodore Nash sees only a few dozen patients a year in his clinic at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s pretty small as medical practices go, but what his patients lack in number they make up for in the intensity of their symptoms. Some fall into comas. Some are paralyzed down one side of their body. Others can’t walk a straight line. Still others come to Nash partially blind, or with so much fluid in their brain that they need shunts implanted to relieve the pressure. Some lose the ability to speak; many fall into violent seizures.

Underneath this panoply of symptoms is the same cause, captured in the MRI scans that Nash takes of his patients’ brains. Each brain contains one or more whitish blobs. You might guess that these are tumors. But Nash knows the blobs are not made of the patient’s own cells. They are tapeworms. Aliens.

A blob in the brain is not the image most people have when someone mentions tapeworms. These parasitic worms are best known in their adult stage, when they live in people’s intestines and their ribbon-shaped bodies can grow as long as 21 feet. But that’s just one stage in the animal’s life cycle. Before they become adults, tapeworms spend time as larvae in large cysts. And those cysts can end up in people’s brains, causing a disease known as neurocysticercosis.

“Nobody knows exactly how many people there are with it in the United States,” says Nash, who is the chief of the Gastrointestinal Parasites Section at NIH. His best estimate is 1,500 to 2,000. Worldwide, the numbers are vastly higher, though estimates on a global scale are even harder to make because neurocysticercosis is most common in poor places that lack good public-health systems. “Minimally there are 5 million cases of epilepsy from neurocysticercosis,” Nash says.

He puts a heavy emphasis on minimally. Even in developed nations, figuring out just how many people have the illness is difficult because it is easy to mistake the effects of a tapeworm for a variety of brain disorders. The clearest proof is the ghostly image of a cyst in a brain scan, along with the presence of antibodies against tapeworms.

The closer scientists look at the epidemiology of the disease, the worse it becomes. Nash and other neurocysticercosis experts have been traveling through Latin America with CT scanners and blood tests to survey populations. In one study in Peru, researchers found 37 percent of people showed signs of having been infected at some point. Earlier this spring, Nash and colleagues published a review of the scientific literature and concluded that somewhere between 11 million and 29 million people have neurocysticercosis in Latin America alone. Tapeworms are also common in other regions of the world, such as Africa and Asia. “Neurocysticercosis is a very important disease worldwide,” Nash says.

Cyst Attack 


The alarming illness occurs when tapeworm larvae lose their way. Normally, Taenia solium has a life cycle that takes it from pigs to humans and back to pigs again. Adult tapeworms, living in the intestines of humans, produce up to 50,000 eggs apiece. The eggs are shed in the infected person’s feces. Pigs swallow these eggs accidentally as they rummage for food on the ground. When the parasite eggs reach a pig’s stomach, larvae hatch and burrow their way into the animal’s bloodstream. Eventually they end up lodged in small blood vessels, typically in the animal’s muscles. There they form cysts and wait until their host is eaten by a human. (Pork has to be undercooked for the tapeworms to complete their journey.)

But sometimes tapeworms take a wrong turn. Instead of going into a pig, the eggs end up in a human. This can occur if someone shedding tapeworm eggs contaminates food that other people then eat. When the egg hatches, the confused larva does not develop into an adult in the human’s intestines. Instead, it acts as it would inside a pig. It burrows into the person’s bloodstream and gets swept through the body. Often those parasites end up in the brain, where they form cysts.

The tapeworm larvae often get stuck in ventricles, or fluid-filled cavities, in the brain, sprouting grapelike extensions. In this way the worm actively cloaks itself from immune cells. Protected and well fed, its cysts can thrive there for years.

As a tapeworm cyst grows, it may push against a region of the brain and disrupt its function. It may get stuck in a passageway, damming the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This impasse can cause hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, along with dangerously high pressure. A resulting brain hernia can result in stupor, coma, or death.

+++

If a tapeworm cyst doesn’t cause big troubles, it may go unnoticed for its entire life. Eventually a tapeworm cyst that can’t move on to its adult stage will die; this signals the host’s immune system, eliciting a powerful attack and bringing its covert deception to an end. In many cases, the immune cells swiftly annihilate the revealed cyst, but often damage occurs. The immune system’s attack on the cyst can cause the surrounding brain tissue to swell with inflammation. For reasons unknown, a calcified cyst can keep triggering these immune reactions for years after the parasite’s death.

Although any cyst in a susceptible area of the brain can cause seizures, those lodged near regions that issue commands to muscles can trigger violent convulsions. One of Nash’s patients suffered from tapeworm cysts that twisted around his brain stem. After the tapeworms died, the inflammation that followed was so severe it put the man in a coma.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, these patients just died. Surgeons would go in and see this mess and couldn’t do much,” Nash says. Fortunately, the situation is improving. Even his comatose patient woke up and, after a few years of off-and-on treatment, completely recovered. “Now the guy is doing quite well.”

Breaking the Cycle


A great step forward came in the mid-1980s when praziquantel, the first drug able to kill tapeworm larvae in the brain, became widely available. But praziquantel proved too effective. It not only kills tapeworms but also triggers an immune reaction that causes brain swelling. “Paradoxically, we produce the disease we want to treat,” Nash says.

Over the years Nash and others refined the treatment by combining praziquantel with other drugs that tamp down the immune system. It is far from a perfect solution, though. Sometimes the immune system still overreacts, requiring years of care for seizures and other symptoms. And immune-suppressant drugs like steroids have side effects of their own.

The hunt for better drugs to fight neurocysticercosis is not an easy process. The best way to test potential medicines on tapeworms is to get living cysts out of infected pigs. Nash and his colleagues recently set up a lab in Peru, where infected pigs are abundant, to do just that.

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.”



TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: brains; donotwant; epidemic; hidden; tapeworms; wereallgonnadie
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1 posted on 05/19/2012 5:45:06 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker

IBTZJ

(In Before The Zombie Jokes)


2 posted on 05/19/2012 5:47:46 PM PDT by Uncle Ike (Rope is cheap, and there are lots of trees...)
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To: LibWhacker

Just Eeewwwww.


3 posted on 05/19/2012 5:49:27 PM PDT by CitizenM (Obama - The architect of the decline of the U.S.)
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To: LibWhacker

Awesome. The perfect dinner-time post!


4 posted on 05/19/2012 5:50:15 PM PDT by BenLurkin (This is not a statement of fact. It is either opinion or satire; or both)
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To: LibWhacker

Is it prevalent in Congresspersons?


5 posted on 05/19/2012 5:50:41 PM PDT by Citizen Tom Paine (An old sailor sends)
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To: LibWhacker

Geez, a hypochondriac’s nightmare, I should know


6 posted on 05/19/2012 5:52:34 PM PDT by punditwannabe
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To: LibWhacker

1,500-2,000 in the US?

It is amazing when they look for the rarest medical problems and label them ‘epidemics’.


7 posted on 05/19/2012 5:52:57 PM PDT by GeronL (The Right to Life came before the Right to Pursue Happiness)
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To: LibWhacker
"..along with the presence of antibodies against tapeworms."

There's a clue that even House could believe.

8 posted on 05/19/2012 5:56:32 PM PDT by Paladin2
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To: BenLurkin

Tell the cook you want that pork chop cooked to a crisp!


9 posted on 05/19/2012 5:57:57 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker

Praziquantel? Wasn’t he in the NBA?


10 posted on 05/19/2012 5:59:15 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: LibWhacker

I’m so glad my brain doesn’t look like that. And, yes, I know what my brain looks like.


11 posted on 05/19/2012 6:01:50 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: LibWhacker

Dont eat pig meat people...they are also big carriers of MRSA...


12 posted on 05/19/2012 6:01:57 PM PDT by blasater1960 (Deut 30, Psalm 111...the Torah and the Law, is attainable past, present and forever.)
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To: blasater1960

Mmmmmm... Pork is worth the risk!


13 posted on 05/19/2012 6:07:40 PM PDT by vladimir998
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To: RegulatorCountry

You’re thinking of Quetzal Coatl. Played for the Knicks.


14 posted on 05/19/2012 6:08:17 PM PDT by BenLurkin (This is not a statement of fact. It is either opinion or satire; or both)
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To: RegulatorCountry
Praziquantel? Wasn’t he in the NBA?

They even have his statue in San Jose:


15 posted on 05/19/2012 6:09:12 PM PDT by ProtectOurFreedom
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To: blasater1960

16 posted on 05/19/2012 6:10:58 PM PDT by mountn man (Happiness is not a destination, its a way of life.)
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To: ProtectOurFreedom
Isn't that a statue to this?
17 posted on 05/19/2012 6:13:02 PM PDT by BenLurkin (This is not a statement of fact. It is either opinion or satire; or both)
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To: LibWhacker
Hidden Epidemic

1,500 to 2,000 cases in the USA is hardly an Epidemic

18 posted on 05/19/2012 6:14:36 PM PDT by Popman (America is squandering its wealth on riotous living, war, and welfare.)
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To: LibWhacker

monsters inside me


19 posted on 05/19/2012 6:14:57 PM PDT by Principled
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To: blasater1960

Yeah, I’m going to quit eating bacon because your opinion means so much to me.

Thanks for telling me what to do.

LOL!


20 posted on 05/19/2012 6:16:50 PM PDT by Eaker (When somebody hands you your arse, don't give it back saying "This needs a little more tenderizing.")
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To: LibWhacker

I’m feeling a sudden urge to chug some veterinary de-wormer.


21 posted on 05/19/2012 6:26:30 PM PDT by LizardQueen (The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.)
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To: LibWhacker

Common in Kenya, it would appear.


22 posted on 05/19/2012 6:32:20 PM PDT by FormerACLUmember
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To: vladimir998

Pork, it’s the meat of kings!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBoLA_BQ4tU


23 posted on 05/19/2012 6:37:14 PM PDT by FrdmLvr (culture, language, borders)
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To: LibWhacker

That’s why Obamacare was invented. Liberals are eaten up with brain worms.


24 posted on 05/19/2012 6:39:22 PM PDT by ImJustAnotherOkie (zerogottago)
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To: LibWhacker
This is a disease that is epidemic in Mexico. It has become a health issue in the US only because of the illegals. Unfortunately the tapeworm infestation is caused by both eating poorly cooked pork and fecal oral contamination. If your favorite restaurant employs illegals from Mexico and they don't wash there hands after going to the bathroom , and they are a carrier of a tape worm then you are at risk of eating a tapeworm egg. One tapeworm can release 200,000 eggs a day. This is another gift from Mexico.
25 posted on 05/19/2012 6:40:32 PM PDT by pterional
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To: mountn man

MmmmmmmmmmmmmBACON

I’ll have mine with a side order of tapeworm kill.


26 posted on 05/19/2012 6:40:58 PM PDT by TribalPrincess2U (Criminaliens or Crimigrants...0bamao's people?)
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To: LibWhacker
From the 3 Stooges:

Curley: I'll have burnt toast and a rotten egg.
Moe: Why are you ordering burnt toast and a rotten egg?
Curley: It serves my tape worm right!

27 posted on 05/19/2012 6:45:38 PM PDT by AU72
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To: blasater1960

That was my decision years ago. In fact I stopped eating ALL mammals.


28 posted on 05/19/2012 6:46:53 PM PDT by mamelukesabre
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To: LibWhacker

Makes me very, very thankful that I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 40 years and never, ever eat out.

Ever since I saw tapeworms in formaldehyde in 10th grade biology class I’ve hated to eat pigs.


29 posted on 05/19/2012 6:48:15 PM PDT by little jeremiah
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To: LizardQueen
Doggone it! If I knew you had some of that, I wouldn't have chugged my last pint of this:

I'm feeling queasy.

30 posted on 05/19/2012 6:50:26 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LizardQueen
I’m feeling a sudden urge to chug some veterinary de-wormer.

Ditto. In reality, all we need to do is make sure pork is cooked thoroughly.

31 posted on 05/19/2012 6:54:02 PM PDT by SCalGal (Friends don't let friends donate to H$U$ or PETA.)
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To: pterional

Arggh! Don’t say that. You know what we had tonight? Takeout tacos from this Mexican joint down the street. I don’t know where he gets his pork, but it doesn’t look like anything we can get from Safeway.


32 posted on 05/19/2012 6:54:39 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: SCalGal

I just had pork chops for dinner, ewwwww.


33 posted on 05/19/2012 6:56:51 PM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: LibWhacker

Red Cross says I cant donate blood any more because I lived in Germany for 3 years and possibly came in contact with Mad Cow.

In my cynicism I throw back that I was only addicted to the Jagerschitzel.

Now this??!!?? Im a goner fer sure!


34 posted on 05/19/2012 6:57:16 PM PDT by Delta 21 (Oh Crap !! Did I say that out loud ??!??)
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To: LibWhacker

Yeah but that stray cat problem you had a few years back has worked itself out nicely.


35 posted on 05/19/2012 7:00:45 PM PDT by Delta 21 (Oh Crap !! Did I say that out loud ??!??)
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To: LibWhacker
I have an idea....listen to God:

Lev 11:7 and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.
Lev 11:8 Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.

36 posted on 05/19/2012 7:01:03 PM PDT by DouglasKC
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To: LibWhacker; stephenjohnbanker; sickoflibs; All
Well after reading this unnerving article, I suppose it would be appropriate to share a story that my late Dad told me, and I hope that the resulting humor will make up for the queasiness that some of us might be feeling right about now ...

"A man discovered that he was terribly constipated, and the usual laxatives and what not were not helping. So, he goes to his doctor, who conducts a thorough exam and then takes a scope to look up the man's hindquarters, and exclaims "well no wonder you're all backed up, you've got a huge tapeworm in your lower intestine, I can see how it has you blocked!"

The man, in a bit of a panic, says "what do I do Doc?" and the doctor reassured him and said "not to worry, I've dealt with this before, I'm giving you a sleeping pill so you can get a good night's rest, and I want you to come back in the morning, and bring me two hard boiled eggs, and a cookie."

His patient said "say WHAT?" and the doctor told him to just follow directions. The man went home, took the sleeping pill, had a rather good sleep, and obediently brought in two hard boiled eggs and a nice thick chocolate chip cookie the next morning to the doctor.

The doctor directs the man to get up on the examining table on his hands and knees after disrobing, and the man heard the unmistakable snap of rubber gloves being pulled over hands and the doctor said "now brace yourself, this might be a little uncomfortable" as he proceeded to ram the first hard boiled egg, then the second egg, AND the cookie, right up the man's anus. Needless to say, the man was a bit stunned at that development. The doctor instructed him to get dressed, take another sleeping pill that night, and bring two MORE hard boiled eggs AND another cookie the next day.

The patient, obedient as before, did exactly that. The next morning, he was ushered into the doctor's examining room, up on the table he goes, and after some reassuring words from his physician, it was one egg, two eggs, AND that chocolate chip cookie, rammed up where the sun doesn't shine.

The man says in obvious pain, "NOW what Doc?!?" And the doctor said, tomorrow your problems will be over, go home and get another good night's rest, and when you come in tomorrow, bring me two hard boiled eggs and a HAMMER."

The patient, VERY alarmed said "DOC?!? You're not gonna go and ram a HAMMER up there are you!?" and the doctor replied, "oh of course not, do you think I'm some kind of barbarian?"

So after one more night of somewhat fitful sleep, the man waddles into the doctor's office, bringing two hard boiled eggs and a big Sears claw hammer. Up on the table he gingerly climbs, the doctor rams the first egg up the guy's rump. The man howls with pain. The second egg is introduced to his colon. MORE painful shrieks. The man says "Doc? I can't take much more of this, what's next?"

The doctor says "be very still, and brace yourself" - and raised the hammer high, and in just a few moments the tapeworm leaped out of the man's butt, yelling
"WHERE'S MY COOKIE?!?"

**** WHAM **** went the hammer!!!!!
37 posted on 05/19/2012 7:01:42 PM PDT by mkjessup (Romney is to conservatism what Helen Thomas is to a high fashion model walkway.)
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To: central_va

I don’t know about you, but I’m eyeing that bottle of mezcal in the liquor cabinet.


38 posted on 05/19/2012 7:04:52 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: Paladin2

“There’s a clue that even House could believe.”

Good call. The pilot episode of House was... tapeworm cysts in the brain.


39 posted on 05/19/2012 7:07:12 PM PDT by Pelham (Obammunism, the slow acting poison.)
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To: Delta 21

Lol! Wow, was that seizure I just had caused by the worms or your spider?


40 posted on 05/19/2012 7:11:59 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: mkjessup

I was just thinking of that very same joke; I think I first heard it in the late 1960s. About when did you first hear it from your dad?


41 posted on 05/19/2012 7:14:11 PM PDT by Charles Martel (Endeavor to persevere...)
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To: mkjessup

Lol, nicely captures the parasite’s mind.


42 posted on 05/19/2012 7:18:05 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: SCalGal

I thought so too,just cook pork thoroughly

Re post #25.

Scary


43 posted on 05/19/2012 7:18:45 PM PDT by Harold Shea (RVN `70 - `71)
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To: LibWhacker

Say hello to my lil friend.

Ive been hankerin for some snakebite, my own self, for a few days now.


44 posted on 05/19/2012 7:22:41 PM PDT by Delta 21 (Oh Crap !! Did I say that out loud ??!??)
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To: mountn man
Saw your pictures and I wanted to make a joke about looking like tapeworms. But, I just can't disrespect bacon like that.
45 posted on 05/19/2012 7:26:34 PM PDT by moovova (OBAMA: The first US President to come out of the closet.)
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To: Citizen Tom Paine

“Is it prevalent in Congresspersons?”

Now, we have full explanation for the idiocies of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Bawney Fwank, Babwa Boxer, and of course, the Obamaloon.


46 posted on 05/19/2012 7:27:41 PM PDT by Da Coyote
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To: ProtectOurFreedom

Looks like a giant coprolite created by a creature with a very high fiber diet.

What’s it supposed to actually be, a coiled snake?


47 posted on 05/19/2012 7:30:57 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: vladimir998
Mmmmmm... Pork is worth the risk!

Indeed it is - but I now feel a bit like those wolves in that old Far Side cartoon, as they surveyed the pig pen and proclaimed: "I say we do it, and trichinosis be damned!"

:-)

48 posted on 05/19/2012 7:35:59 PM PDT by Charles Martel (Endeavor to persevere...)
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To: DouglasKC

Vincent: Want some bacon?
Jules: No man, I don’t eat pork.
Vincent: Are you Jewish?
Jules: Nah, I ain’t Jewish, I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.
Jules: Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ‘cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy ....... Pigs sleep and root in s.... That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got sense enough to disregard its own feces.
Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.
Jules: I don’t eat dog either.
Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?
Jules: I wouldn’t go so far as to call a dog filthy but they’re definitely dirty. But, a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?
Jules: Well we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming .... pig. I mean he’d have to be ten times more charmin’ than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I’m sayin’?


49 posted on 05/19/2012 7:37:05 PM PDT by dfwgator
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To: pterional
This is a disease that is epidemic in Mexico.

Absolutely. And the illegals bring those tapeworms here to this country.

What is interesting is tapeworms lay eggs that get into the bloodstream. Those eggs travel to the brain and get encapsulated and present as a brain tumor.

Guess who is paying for the neurosurgery.

50 posted on 05/19/2012 7:45:11 PM PDT by ladyjane
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