RFK Jr. says he suffered from a parasitic brain worm and mercury poisoning

The campaign of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent running for president, confirmed Wednesday that he contracted a parasite in his brain over a decade ago.

His campaign’s comment came after The New York Times reported he said in a 2012 deposition that a parasitic worm “ate a portion” of his brain and may have caused cognitive issues.

Kennedy campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear said in a statement to CBS News that he contracted a parasite after traveling “extensively in Africa, South America and Asia as his work as an environmental advocate.”

“The issue was resolved more than 10 years ago, and he is in robust physical and mental health. Questioning Mr. Kennedy’s health is a hilarious suggestion, given his competition,” Spear said.

Kennedy quipped in a post on X Wednesday, “I offer to eat 5 more brain worms and still beat President Trump and President Biden in a debate.”

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Cesar Chavez Day event at Union Station on March 30, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

During a deposition given by Kennedy in 2012 amid his divorce from his second wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy, The Times reports he stated that he faced “cognitive problems” and experienced memory loss and brain fog, leading one doctor to say he had a dead parasite in his brain in 2010.

The Times reported that Kennedy said in the deposition that a friend pushed him to seek out medical care after noticing his cognitive issues, initially thinking Kennedy might be suffering from a brain tumor.

It is possible that Kennedy could have contracted a parasitic worm in his brain, according to a medical expert, although it wouldn’t have been “eating his brain.” However, parasites such as tapeworms do not consume brain tissue, as Kennedy suggested during his deposition.

Tapeworm infections, or neurocysticercosis, can be contracted from consuming undercooked pork or drinking contaminated water, particularly in regions with poor sanitation such as parts of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. When individuals ingest tapeworm eggs, these can travel through the bloodstream and infest various organs including the brain, muscles, liver and other tissues.

Symptoms can include nausea, headaches and seizures, said CBS News medical contributor Dr. Celine Gounder on “CBS Mornings,” although many people who suffer from this type of infection may not see symptoms.

Treatment for tapeworm infection typically involves medications such as anti-parasitic drugs to kill the worms.

In some cases, if the worm dies, the body’s immune system may clear the dead worm from the brain tissue without requiring surgery, unless complications arise. It’s unclear whether Kennedy underwent surgery for this diagnosis, though he informed the Times in a recent interview that he has fully recovered from the memory loss and brain fogginess and has experienced no other lingering effects. He also mentioned that no treatment was necessary for the parasitic condition.

According to The Times, during Kennedy’s 2012 deposition, he also reported having been diagnosed with mercury poisoning, which he said was the result of a diet heavy on tuna and other fish. He reportedly said, “I have cognitive problems, clearly. I have short-term memory loss, and I have longer-term memory loss that affects me.”

Memory loss is more commonly associated with mercury poisoning than with a parasitic worm, experts say.

Kennedy told the paper that he attributed his mercury poisoning diagnosis to his diet. He said medical tests showed his mercury levels were 10 times what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

“I loved tuna fish sandwiches. I ate them all the time,” Kennedy said to The Times.

Kennedy has long been an outspoken activist against vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was phased out of childhood vaccines two decades ago, falsely linking vaccinations in children to a rise in autism and other medical conditions. There is no evidence to suggest that low doses of thimerosal causes harm to people, but an excess consumption of mercury, found in fish, can be toxic to humans.

And while both parasitic infections and mercury poisoning can lead to long-term brain damage, it is also possible to make a full recovery, experts say.

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