Fact Check

Maggots in Brain

Rumor: Photographs show a man whose brain was 'infested with maggots.'

Published April 6, 2003


Claim:   Photographs show a man whose brain became 'infested with maggots' due to an ingrown hair or consumption of contaminated sushi.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2003]

Dude gets an ingrown hair. It gets infected, now he has a boil. Ought to go to the doc and get it lanced, but he doesn't. Weeks pass. The boil grows, eroding downward toward his skull. Ought to go to the hospital in a jiffy, but he doesn't. Weeks pass. The infection reaches his skull. Bone, once infected, presents little barrier to spread of infection to contiguous bone, and so it spreads within his skull. Ought to spend a good long time in the hospital, but he doesn't. The bone dies, and begins to erode. Weeks pass. At some point, the smell attracts flies, which begin to lay eggs in his festering wound, and maggots take hold. Weeks pass. The infection breaches the inner layer of his skull, and reaches the meninges. Weeks pass. Though their tensile strength is impressive, the meninges are quite thin, and the infection breaches
them. Now, infection and maggots set to work on his brain. Your brain just isn't supposed to be on your outside, and presents almost no barrier to anything when exposed. Infection and maggots get to work on his brain. This makes him feel a little wobbly on his feet, and so, what do you know, he decides to see the doctor. He walks in to the Stanford ER, where these photos were taken, just as you see him here.

This is a true case of a japanese man from GifuPrefecture who complains incessantly about a persistent headache.

Mr. Shota Fujiwara loves his sashimi and sushi very much to the extent of trying to get them as "alive and fresh" as can be for his insatiable appetite. He developes a severe headache for the past 3 years and has put it off as migraine and stress from work. It was only when he started losing his psycomotor skills that he seeks medical help. A brain scan and x-ray reveals little however. But upon closer inspection by a specialist on his scalp, the doctor noticed small movements beneath his skin. It was then that the doctor did a local anaesthetic to his scalp and discovered the cause when tiny worms crawled out. A major surgery was thus immediately called for and the extent of the infestation was horrific.

See the attached pictures to the scene that one thought only a movie could produced:

Remember, tapeworms and roundworms and their eggs which abounds in all fishes from fresh or saltwater can only be killed by thorough cooking and/or freezing the fish to between 4°C-0°C. The eggs of these parasites can only be killed if it is cooked or frozen to the said temperatures for a week or more. Think twice about that raw dish next time ... or you might get a headache.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Origins:   The photographs displayed here began circulating on the Internet (unaccompanied by any explanatory context) in late 2002; by the middle of 2003, they had begun to pick up a number of far-fetched narratives, such as the two reproduced above: one positing that the brain of the man pictured above became "infested with maggots" due to an infection caused by an ingrown hair; the other maintaining that the condition came about through the man's ingestion of parasite-infested sushi.

Although such explanations were mere fabrications, the images are in fact real and undoctored, and they are indeed photographs taken of a man whose brain surface was exposed and crawling with insects.

As we learned at the time from sources involved with the patient's treatment, the pictures date from October 2002 and are photographs of a man in his 70s who was suffering from an unusual form of cancer which had eaten away at the upper portion of his skull and scalp, but who had not sought any medical treatment because the condition was not causing him pain. The man was brought to the trauma center at Stanford University Hospital (where the photographs shown here were taken) by San Mateo County paramedics who had been summoned to the scene after the man was involved in a minor automobile accident and who found him in his car in the condition pictured.

In 2007, a paper on this patient was published in the medical journal Neurosurgery, which summarized the case thusly:

Primary human cerebral myiasis is an exceedingly rare condition and is almost never encountered by physicians in developed countries. The case report summarizes a case of extensive cerebral myiasis in a periurban community in the United States.

After a minor motor vehicle accident, police brought a 75-year-old man to the emergency room because he was observed to have a large cranial lesion. Examination revealed a 15 x 17 cm frontal bone defect with eroded frontal dura, exposed cortex, and massive cortical maggot infestation.

The patient was empirically treated with intravenous antibiotics for meningitis. Maggots (Phaenicia sericata, or the green bottle fly) were removed by suction, attrition, and gentle contact exposure to a mild bleach solution. Biopsy of the scalp and cranium revealed angiosarcoma, for which operative treatment was refused. The patient was transferred to a skilled nursing facility for palliative care where he died 3 months later.

This is the first published case of cerebral myiasis in the United States. Although human cerebral myiasis is rare, conditions do exist in this country that permit myiasis.

A similar hoax involving x-rays purportedly showing a man whose body was swarming with tapeworms due to his consumption of sashimi was circulated in September 2014.

Last updated:   17 August 2015


    Cheshier, S.H., et al.   "Cerebral Myiasis Associated with Angiosarcoma of the Scalp."

    Neurosurgery.   July 2007.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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