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  5. We asked a parasite expert about RFK Jr.'s claim that a worm ate his brain. Here's what they said.

We asked a parasite expert about RFK Jr.'s claim that a worm ate his brain. Here's what they said.

Geoff Weiss,Paul Squire   

We asked a parasite expert about RFK Jr.'s claim that a worm ate his brain. Here's what they said.
  • Did a worm eat Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s brain?
  • The third-party presidential candidate said in a 2012 deposition that a doctor suggested a parasite hurt him.

Brain-eating worms? Not likely.

A shocking report in The New York Times on Wednesday revealed that independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggested in a 2012 deposition that doctors had found a dead worm in his brain.

In the court proceeding — part of his divorce from his second wife — Kennedy said that he had short-term and long-term memory loss, according to The Times.

Kennedy said he had visited doctors in 2010 who thought he had a brain tumor, but another doctor suggested that a dark spot on Kennedy's brain scan was "caused by a worm that got into my brain and ate a portion of it and then died," The Times reported.

Kennedy argued in the deposition that he couldn't make as much money due to his health, and also revealed that he had mercury poisoning around the same time.

Kennedy has portrayed himself as the younger, more healthy alternative to the other two men running for president, Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

His campaign's press secretary confirmed that Kennedy was infected with a parasite 10 years ago and said it was resolved. His campaign told Business Insider that Kennedy is in "robust physical and mental health" and said questioning his fitness is a "hilarious suggestion, given his competition."

But could a parasitic worm even cause that kind of damage? One medical expert told Business Insider that Kennedy's version of events doesn't quite add up.

Dr. Janina Caira, a University of Connecticut professor and tapeworm specialist, told BI that Kennedy's parasite sounds more like the larvae of a pork tapeworm.

That would be rare, Caira said in an email. Humans can be infected with the adult worm by eating undercooked pork, but can only be infected with the larvae after eating food or drinking water contaminated by the feces of someone with an adult tapeworm infection.

"This typically happens in areas with poor sanitation," Caira said. "So, it is possible that he could have contracted the infection in South Asia if he came into contact with food or water contaminated with eggs of the tapeworm."

But there's no way the larvae could have consumed Kennedy's brain tissue.

"Absolutely not," Caira wrote.

She said the larvae don't have mouths or digestive systems. Instead, they absorb nutrients through the surface of their bodies. While Caira said it is possible that a worm could do some "mechanical damage" to nearby brain tissue, the larvae are very small, and a single one "would not cause much damage."

That lines up with what experts, who were skeptical of the details, told The New York Times.

However, Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and global health advocate who is a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology & microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, wrote on X that "neuroparasitic diseases" and "parasitic worms have a huge impact on the human brain."

Hotez said the diseases are seen in poor populations, with a "surprising amount of illness" in southern states and Texas. He said his team at the National School of Tropical Medicine is working on low-cost vaccines to prevent the conditions.

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