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Metagenomic Test Finds Brain Tapeworm

A metagenomic-based test got to the root of a construction worker's splitting headaches, double vision, and brain swelling, Scientific American reports.

An MRI, spinal tap, and other tests of a 29-year-old Nicaraguan man couldn't come up with an explanation for his encephalitis, leading doctors at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital to suspect that he had an infection, it adds. In particular, they though he likely had a type of tuberculosis that causes brain inflammation. But, Scientific American adds that despite treatment, the man's symptoms persisted.

He was then sent for an experimental metagenomic test to examine all the DNA and RNA found within a cerebrospinal fluid sample, Scientific American says, noting that such a test searches for bacterial, viruses, fungi, and parasites. "We're looking at everything at once, which has the potential of replacing the myriad of lab tests with a single test," says Charles Chiu, one of the developers of the test at the University of California, San Francisco.

For the construction worker, the test picked up DNA from a tapeworm that had taken up residence in his brain to cause his symptoms.

Scientific American adds that Chiu and his colleagues will be offering the test to other hospitals and labs this summer and that other metagenomic-based tests are also expected to be released soon.