Politicians making icky confessions

Kristi Noem may have callously killed a puppy, but RFK Jr. claims he has a dead worm in his brain.

In 2010, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was experiencing memory loss and mental fogginess so severe that a friend grew concerned he might have a brain tumor. Mr. Kennedy said he consulted several of the country’s top neurologists, many of whom had either treated or spoken to his uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, before his death the previous year of brain cancer.

Several doctors noticed a dark spot on the younger Mr. Kennedy’s brain scans and concluded that he had a tumor, he said in a 2012 deposition reviewed by The New York Times. Mr. Kennedy was immediately scheduled for a procedure at Duke University Medical Center by the same surgeon who had operated on his uncle, he said.

While packing for the trip, he said, he received a call from a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital who had a different opinion: Mr. Kennedy, he believed, had a dead parasite in his head.

The doctor believed that the abnormality seen on his scans “was caused by a worm that got into my brain and ate a portion of it and then died,” Mr. Kennedy said in the deposition.

This is a real thing called neurocysticercosis. It is unusual for political candidates to chat about the worms eating their brain while on the campaign trail, though.

Several infectious disease experts and neurosurgeons said in separate interviews with The Times that, based on what Mr. Kennedy described, they believed it was likely a pork tapeworm larva. The doctors have not treated Mr. Kennedy and were speaking generally.

Dr. Clinton White, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said microscopic tapeworm eggs are sticky and easily transferred from one person to another. Once hatched, the larvae can travel in the bloodstream, he said, “and end up in all kinds of tissues.”

Though it is impossible to know, he added that it is unlikely that a parasite would eat a part of the brain, as Mr. Kennedy described. Rather, Dr. White said, it survives on nutrients from the body. Unlike tapeworm larvae in the intestines, those in the brain remain relatively small, about a third of an inch.

What next? Is some politician going to confess to paying for sex with a porn star?


  1. lotharloo says


    Nah, more like the worm died because it didn’t find anything worthwhile to eat.

  2. stuffin says

    I want to send my sympathies to the family of the worm, because starving to death is terrible way to die.

  3. stuffin says

    PS, a dead worm in his brain can explain a lot about Kennedy’s behavior. And a politician running for president probably shouldn’t be informing the voters about said dead worm in his brain.

  4. raven says

    As PZ notes in the OP, parasitic worms rarely find their way into human brains.
    There was recently a case from Australia that was in the news for weeks.

    This woman managed to get a carpet python roundworm in her brain. It was 3 inches long and still alive when it was surgically removed.

    I’m really not sure what the lesson is here though. Don’t eat carpet pythons or at least cook them well?

    Washington Post

    How a medical mystery led to a wriggling, parasitic worm in a woman’s brain
    By Daniel Wu
    August 30, 2023 at 3:02 a.m. EDT edited for length

    Researchers at the Australian National University and Canberra Hospital found a live, three-inch roundworm from a carpet python in the brain of a 64-year-old Australian woman. (AAP/Emerging Infectious Diseases/Reuters)

    A 64-year-old woman in New South Wales, Australia, arrived at a hospital in January 2021 with a confounding set of symptoms. She reported three weeks of abdominal pain, a dry cough and night sweats. Tests revealed lesions in the woman’s lungs, liver and spleen, and an abnormally high white blood cell count.

    The high white blood cell count suggested that her body was responding to some kind of infection.
    They struggled with a diagnosis for 18 months, while the woman’s symptoms worsened to include forgetfulness and depression.

    A surgeon at Canberra Hospital extracted a pale red, three-inch-long roundworm from within a lesion in the woman’s brain, in a unique — and stomach-churning — discovery, researchers wrote in early August in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a peer-reviewed journal published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The parasite, a larva of the Ophidascaris robertsi species, had not previously been reported inside a human brain.

    The woman’s shocking experience may have been a case of extraordinarily bad luck, researchers told The Post. While humans can be infected by some types of roundworms, the parasite found in her brain typically resides in the stomachs of carpet pythons, which are common in Australia. The parasite’s eggs are shed into the snakes’ feces and ingested by small mammals like rats, where they grow as larvae before reentering a snake when it eats the mammal.

    The patient, whom the study does not identify by name, lived near a lake inhabited by carpet pythons and collected New Zealand spinach growing around the lake to cook with, according to the study. Researchers speculated that she may have inadvertently consumed O. robertsi eggs either from dirtied vegetation or by contaminating her hands or kitchen equipment.

    From there, any roundworm eggs would have followed their usual playbook, releasing larva to burrow into their host’s stomach wall, Šlapeta said. The larva usually stay in a cavity near the stomach, but Šlapeta said the roundworm found inside the woman may have burrowed to other organs in confusion, which would explain the lesions in her liver. Researchers wrote in the study that the roundworm’s survival in the woman’s body may have been aided by the immunosuppressants she was prescribed to treat her high white blood cell levels.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    If you have read about Wormwood in Ben Templesmith’s Gentleman Corpse, you will be familiar with the concept.
    The demon worm Wormwood generally inhabited a body after its death, animating it and using it as a dual place of living and vehicle for travel (his Hebrew meat costume caused a lot of misunderstandings way back).

    This seems to be an unfortunate sibling that jumped into RFK jr. perimortem and starved to death. A pity; if the sibling was anything like Wormwood the it would have made for a pro-social zombie (Wormwood once stopped the apocalypse by providing enough cocaine and free cable for the four horsemen).

  6. raven says


    Since 2005, Kennedy has promoted anti-vaccine misinformation[6] and public health conspiracy theories,[7] including the scientifically disproven claim of a causal link between vaccines and autism.[8]

    I’m not sure how much this lesion on his brain explains Robert Kennedy Jr.’s behavior.

    He was strange for a long time before this event, which happened in 2010.
    He started his career as an antivaxxer in 2005.

    I just read his Wikipedia biography, which is pretty long.
    He has spent most of career as an environmentalist and environmentalist lawyer and seems to have been a hard worker. Most of his bio doesn’t look at all like that of a lunatic fringer.

    It was only late in his career that he shifted from environmentalist activism more towards antivaxxer activism.

  7. robro says

    I’ll second gijoel @ #1, this explain everything…or at least a lot. Either a brain tumor or brain worm explain this politician’s bizarre behavior.

  8. raven says

    From the article in the OP.

    About the same time he learned of the parasite, he said, he was also diagnosed with mercury poisoning, most likely from ingesting too much fish containing the dangerous heavy metal, which can cause serious neurological issues.

    “I have cognitive problems, clearly,” he said in the 2012 deposition. “I have short-term memory loss, and I have longer-term memory loss that affects me.”

    Kennedy also had an episode of mercury poisoning.
    It was clinically confirmed that his blood levels were 10 times the recommended safe level.

    He claims with some evidence that he is recovered from his brain fog issues.

    There are roughly 2,000 hospitalizations for the condition, known as neurocysticercosis, each year in the United States, according to the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

    I knew that worms in the brain could happen, but I didn’t realize they were all that common.
    Remind me not to eat any pythons.

  9. Artor says

    I am not surprised that RFK Jr’s brains are toxic enough to kill any parasite snacking in there.

  10. says

    [A] politician running for president probably shouldn’t be informing the voters about said dead worm in his brain.

    I think they should, to give the full disclosure to the voters.

  11. Larry says

    If only one worm caused Kennedy’s bizarro behavior, how many dead worms is the flatulent rapist carrying around?

  12. Robbo says

    pink floyd knew this back in the 80s.

    from the song “Hey You”

    “and the worms ate into his brain”

    plus the song “Waiting for the Worms”

  13. says

    Isn’t “I’m ‘gainfully employed’ as a full-time politician” the ickiest confession of all? It’s not that they’re not needed in a representative democracy (because they are); it’s that merging one’s identity into partisan politics is icky.

  14. jenorafeuer says


    He has spent most of career as an environmentalist and environmentalist lawyer and seems to have been a hard worker. Most of his bio doesn’t look at all like that of a lunatic fringer.

    It looks like RFKjr is a victim of something similar to the ‘Nobel Disease’, where people who were smart and successful really don’t deal well with not being successful once they move into another field they’re less familiar with.

    As you note, he started as an environmentalist lawyer. The shift to anti-vaxx loon came later; he ran into people who were already in the ‘vaccinations cause autism’ camp from people like Wakefield, discovered that one of the common preservatives used in vaccines contains mercury, which he knew from his environmental work could be toxic and affect the brain (even though the compounds used as preservatives are a lot easier for the body to deal with and dispose of than the more toxic forms, and in any case the amounts used in vaccines are minuscule), and so he led a massive push to stop use of thimerosal. He was part of the original ‘Mercury Militia’ of the anti-vaxx movement.

    That push was effective over a generation ago, and the removal of the preservative in question from childhood vaccines has had (of course) absolutely zero effect on autism rates. Having staked his reputation on this, though, and loving the adulation he got from the other anti-vaxxers who were happy to have someone with significant celebrity and political power on their side, RFKjr was incapable of admitting that he might have been wrong, and started digging himself deeper into the lunatic fringe to keep himself relevant with the people who were cheering him on.

    He certainly wasn’t getting cheered on by people who liked scientific accuracy anymore, after all.

  15. numerobis says

    It is deeply ironic that one of the ivermectin crew would be someone who would actually, for real, benefit from ivermectin.

  16. Nomad says

    I feel like people are taking these claims at face value when they should be taken with a (very large) grain of salt. We don’t know if there’s anything in his brain. It’s noteworthy that experts who have spoken out about this have mentioned that parasites in the brain usually cause very different effects. They don’t cause “brain fog”. His own story is that doctors thought it was a tumor until they suddenly changed their mind, declared it to be a brain worm, but it then resolved without any treatment. I’m not saying that that’s impossible, but it sounds like the diagnosis was never clear and then the situation resolved on its own without any treatment, so I’m not sure I believe that it was ever as clear as he presented it.

    First off it should be noted that the claims about him having a brain worm came from a deposition he gave in 2012, during divorce proceedings. This isn’t something he’s come out and said now, this is from journalists digging into his history. He was making the claim about brain worms to argue that his diminished mental capacity meant he had a diminished earning potential as well, presumably as part of an argument that he should have to pay his wife less as part of the divorce. In other words, he had motivation to lie. But now he says his mind is all cleared up of course, he wants everyone to know that his brain is sharp now, it only had problems back when he wanted to save money during a divorce.

    About the mercury poisoning claim, he claimed he got it from eating too much tuna. He claimed that tests showed he had elevated levels, but… when were these supposed tests administered?

    The reason I ask is that at least by 2015, Kennedy was pushing the narrative that the trace amounts of mercury used as a preservative in vaccines was causing autism. Quick searches aren’t giving me answers on how early he picked up this belief that miniscule amounts of mercury were able to have such outsized effects, but he may have been a true believer by 2012.

    Perhaps he got a mercury test done by a quack who used unreliable tests to diagnose people with fake heavy metal poisoning? This is a thing. For instance, some quacks administer chelating drugs, which cause people to eliminate heavy metals from their system, and then test their urine and declare that the elevated levels of various things shows that they have heavy metal poisoning. But there’s no standard to diagnose such things after someone has been given chelating drugs. Chelating agents should cause such levels to be increased even if the person doesn’t have a dangerous amount of such things in their blood. To be blunt, it’s a way to fake the results to show heavy metal poisoning. But chelating drugs are potentially dangerous and should only be given if they’re known to be needed, and you can’t diagnose that they’re needed through such means.

    Anyway, because RFK Jr is known to be a disinformation spreader I question every single aspect of this story. All we know for sure is that he claimed these things in a situation in which claiming to have diminished mental capacity could allow him to keep more money during a divorce. We know him to be a man who keeps the company of quacks such as Sherri Tenpenny, the woman who claimed that the covid vaccines make people’s skin magnetic. She is a licensed osteopath, not just a random crank, and he chooses to support her. Would he go to such people for his own medical care? I don’t know, if he’s really a true believer and not a con artist, he may have. In which case all of these claims may be false. Or perhaps it’s just something he made up to try to keep hold of his money during a divorce. The stories about this make no mention of any medical evidence provided to back up his claims in that deposition.

    It is interesting that a few years before he joined and then took control of the World Mercury Project and used it to spread disinformation about the impact of mercury preservatives in vaccines he was claiming that he had mercury poisoning.

  17. Kagehi says


    Ran into a nut customer the other day who inadvertently explained one of the reasons that the thimerosal BS is still a thing, “It still has this ingredient, just look at the patent.” Mind – this would be the “original” patent, since I very much doubt they would bother to look at new patents for new versions of a vaccine, if such exist, nor are patents magical formulas that require someone follow them exactly, even if given permission to do otherwise, because you have since come up with a better product (or even just change one f-ing component that improves it, or is redundant), nor would such a patent be relevant if it is expired. But, nope, that “patent” has mercury in it, therefor everyone saying it is no longer in vaccines is lying, and the “patent” proves it. Sigh….

  18. raven says

    His own story is that doctors thought it was a tumor until they suddenly changed their mind, declared it to be a brain worm, but it then resolved without any treatment.

    This isn’t too unreasonable.

    The symptoms and damage from a parasitic worm in the brain usually happens when they encyst and then die. The dead worm causes inflammation and that is what causes the brain symptoms.
    At this point, there isn’t any treatment because the worm is dead.
    And after the body has dealt with the dead worm, the symptoms usually do clear up.

    Ran into a nut customer the other day who inadvertently explained one of the reasons that the thimerosal BS is still a thing, “It still has this ingredient, just look at the patent.”

    Which is irrelevant.
    Every drug approved and sold has a publicly available ingredient list. One that you can read from the package insert or look up on the internet.
    They took the thimerosal out of the vaccines many years ago.
    It made no difference.

    During the start of the Covid-19 virus pandemic, the antivaxxers kept going on about how “nobody knows what is in those mRNA vaccines.”
    Which was a simple lie.
    You could look it up with Google in a few seconds.
    The ingredient list was short and had routine ingredients in it.

    The antivaxxers then started making wild claims that the mRNA vaccines contained microchips that were magic since they worked without a power supply, nanotech devices, or various mythological small animals.

    At this point, you realize you can’t fix stupid and move on.
    The number of antivaxxers who caught the Covid-19 virus and died in the USA is 330,000.
    At the height of the pandemic, the ICU patients on vents were around 95% antivaxxers.

  19. Kagehi says

    @22 raven

    Oh, I know its irrelevant, but they don’t. They seem to think that “patent” are some sort of formula that has to be followed to the letter, so therefor it never changes. This is of course BS. There isn’t a single device you likely own that has not have components added, removed, updated, etc., in supposed contradiction to the “patent” for the bloody things. The point is, “Does it do the same thing as originally intended and not significantly alter the original purpose?” The removed “ingredient” was only added originally because they needed to thermally stabilize the freaking thing in a time period without guaranteed refrigeration or bloody cheap Styrofoam ice chests you could ship it in. Its the bloody equivalent of how every “mostly just a keyboard with ports” style computers in the 80s (Commodore 64, etc.) all had flipping EM shields, which today you literally don’t find being used at all, even in new designs that just sit inside plastic shells, or, even in the case of old retro machines, people rip out and throw away. The level of EM interference in the ranges that “needed” it has changes, it wasn’t really needed 90% of the time even back then, and new chips, including replacement stock for those parts you can replace in the old machines, never mind entirely new, modern chips, don’t suffer from the same problems. Its no longer necessary.

    But, the utter lack of logic of these people implies that companies who have “literally” been caught selling vitamins that don’t contain any, never mind the correct amounts, of vitamins, or other ingredients, because, of course, like potato chip makers, putting less in the bag (or pill) than before, and raising the price, is more profitable that continuing to put all of the ingredients in either, are 1) selling things that don’t do anything, and the thimerosal is the only “active ingredient (which I am sure some of the crazies think), 2) adding it anyway, even though it doesn’t add anything to the freaking vaccine, and is unnecessary (which costs money, and you know damn well that they would be more likely to leave it out when it “was” necessary to save a buck), or 3) it makes no sense to keep it in there, if it doesn’t do anything, and leaving it out saves the company money, so they freaking stopped adding it the second they could. The third option is reality, the second option contradicts everything we know about how corporations freaking think, and makes no damn sense, but somehow, to antivaxxers, the first one makes the most sense…. Now, there is an option 4, of course, “It doesn’t do anything at all, so they are not putting any ingredients in it that do anything at all, including the scary thing they imagine is in it.”, and.. sadly, this, if they could get by with it, is almost certainly what they would do (and have with supplements, which almost virtually unregulated). Only, vaccines are not “supplements” and ARE regulated.

    So, yeah, the scenario they believe in is insane, and makes no sense.

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