Doctors inspecting these mysterious bruises appearing on the limbs of two toddlers have discovered a severe parasitic infection of tapeworm larvae living in nodules under their skin.
Images taking of a one-year-old girl’s arm and her three-year-old brother’s leg show multiple areas of discoloured skin, which tests later confirmed to be housing larvae of the parasite Taenia solium – better known as the pork tapeworm.
The children’s mother, who has not been named, said she first noticed bruising on her daughter’s arm in October but thought she had hurt herself while playing with her brother in their home in Shenzhen in China’s southern province of Guangdong.
However, the concerned parent decided to take her girl to Shenzhen Third People’s Hospital on 8th November after the bruising appeared to spread and she began coughing too.
Wang Xianfeng, the facility’s head pediatrician, said: “The child was admitted because of bruises which repeatedly appeared on her body and especially on all four limbs.
“It wasn’t immediately clear what her condition was, so the advice was for her to stay for further tests.”
However, Doctor Wang said he noticed by chance that the toddler’s older brother had similar symptoms.
He was also asked to remain for tests.
The medic added: “Their blood tests were clean but showed an unusually high white blood cell count.
“This clue, together with the discovery that the sister’s bruises were in fact nodules under her skin, led to us testing for parasites.”
White blood cells are produced in large numbers to fight off infections, and test kits provided by the Shenzhen Center for Disease Control and Prevention proved Doctor Wang’s theory of a pork tapeworm infestation.
Doctor Wang said: “After the larvae hatch in the body, they don’t immediately grow into tapeworms.
“The young swim around the body and can lead to serious conditions in certain areas, such as neurocysticercosis in the brain.
“The larvae found in the children were living between their skin and flesh, causing nodules and bruising.”
The children were put on a course of antiparasitic drugs to kill the larvae and flush any remaining eggs out of their body.
The tots are continuing the treatment and will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks.
Doctor Wang said tapeworm eggs are usually ingested through the mouth.
An infection can be prevented with good hygiene, and by thoroughly cooking raw meat such as pork.
In April this year, Shenzhen Children’s Hospital treated a four-year-old boy with a bulging abdomen, which contained two large cysts filled with larvae-infested liquid.
The boy was diagnosed with hydatid disease – an infection of the cystic or larval stage of the tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus – and the 1 litre of liquid was drained from the sacs before they were removed in a two-stage surgery.
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