Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Politics

RFK Jr. has a brainworm? This explains an awful lot

A New York Times article reports that in his divorce proceedings a decade ago, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. argued that hais earning potential had decreased because he had had a brainworm. This explains an awful lot.

I originally planned on writing about something totally different than this, but the drumbeat of stories and jokes in the media and on social media over the last couple of days made it impossible for me to resist writing about this. I’ve been writing about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s antivax propaganda and conspiracy theories for nearly 19 years now, but I never could have predicted what happened during the last year. For example, it’s been a bit over a year since RFK Jr. announced that he was running for President, and, even more surprisingly, he appears to be garnering enough support that he could play the role of spoiler in enough swing states to affect the elections. Soon after, he was in the news for speculating that COVID-19 was an “ethnically targeted bioweapon.” As bizarre as those stories have been, nothing prepared me for earlier this week when the New York Times published an article entitled RFK Jr. Says Doctors Found a Dead Worm in His Brain. That’s right. RFK Jr. had a brainworm! Even better, its tagline read:

The presidential candidate has faced previously undisclosed health issues, including a parasite that he said ate part of his brain.

My first reaction was: WTF? My second reaction was: Well, that explains an awful lot. My third reaction was to do what Orac does and look into the story a bit more:

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.

My having taken the ‘nym of the most powerful supercomputer in an obscure British science fiction TV series from the late 1970s and early 1980s aside, I am human. I really, really couldn’t resist the usual jokes about how the brainworm must have died of starvation. Indeed, Wednesday night Stephen Colbert had a field day, and I couldn’t stop laughing, starting with a brief intro:

And a large part of his monologue:

One is really, really tempted to suggest that maybe ivermectin is for RFK Jr. after all! It is, however, unclear what kind of worm it was, although lots of news outlets tried to get doctors and scientists to speculate, for example:

From what I have read, it might have been a particular infection known as Taeniasis. And Taeniasis is an infection you get from a tropical parasitic worm – the easy name is tapeworms [which can be carried by pigs].

What happens is when you’re infected with a tapeworm, usually from raw pork or undercooked pork, you ingest the eggs and those eggs will go on to hatch. And in their larvae form, they will spread throughout the body and, depending on what tissues in the body they end in, they cause a disease called cysticercosis.

Unfortunately, ivermectin isn’t the treatment. Drugs called praziquantel and albendazole are. That’s not all, though. RFK Jr. also reported having suffered from mercury poisoning:

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.”

How did he get mercury poisoning? Here’s how:

Mr. Kennedy said he was then subsisting on a diet heavy on predatory fish, notably tuna and perch, both known to have elevated mercury levels. In the interview with The Times, he said that he had experienced “severe brain fog” and had trouble retrieving words. Mr. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who has railed against the dangers of mercury contamination in fish from coal-fired power plants, had his blood tested.

He said the tests showed his mercury levels were 10 times what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

Ironically, though:

At the time, Mr. Kennedy also was a few years into his crusade against thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines. He is a longtime vaccine skeptic who has falsely linked childhood inoculations to a rise in autism, as well as to other medical conditions.

In the interview, Mr. Kennedy said he was certain his diet had caused the poisoning. I loved tuna fish sandwiches. I ate them all the time,” he said.

Of course, I do take some of this reporting with a grain of salt in that the NYT found these tidbits in a deposition for his divorce proceedings from his second wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy, in which he was trying to argue that his earning power had been diminished by his cognitive struggles. Given that this happened in 2012, I have to wonder whether his earning power had been diminished more than his having over the last seven years prior becoming the most famous antivax activist in the world after Andrew Wakefield, if not more famous than Wakefield, rather than a brainworm.

I’m really not sure from this reporting whether RFK Jr. was subsisting on nothing but tuna and other fish at risk for having a lot of mercury long before he went on his thimerosal crusade. It depends on whether “at the time” means at the time he gave his deposition or not, as that was 2012 and seven years into his antivax crusade that had started as a crusade against thimerosal-containing vaccines and then expanded to encompass all vaccines. It would make a lot more sense if this happened before he started his antithimerosal crusade; indeed, it would explain a lot about how he so easily latched onto fear mongering about a mercury-containing vaccine preservative. On the other hand, if he was saying that he was having the symptoms at the time of his divorce, in 2012, which seems likely (otherwise why bother to mention it in the deposition?), then WTF? He had spent the last seven years fear mongering about mercury in vaccines, but he chowed on fish prone to having high levels of mercury to the point of developing symptoms like “severe brain fog”? Damn. The man either really, really loved tuna or was not nearly as brilliant as his followers portray him or, more likely both. Unsurprisingly, he underwent chelation therapy for it, a favorite quack treatment for, well, everything that might or might not have been appropriate medically in this case. (Some doctors would recommend it for such high mercury levels; others would just recommend dietary changes.)

Basically, the overall impression is that RFK Jr. is not a healthy man, his recent turn to pumping iron and showing off his guns and his bench press abilities for the cameras notwithstanding. He has a number of health problems. Of course, there’s the spasmodic dysphonia, which affects the vocal cords and explains his distorted voice (and that he also blames on vaccines). He also has atrial fibrillation (for which he’s been hospitalized four times and undergone cardioversion each time), and contracted hepatitis C from drug use in his youth. Of course, RFK Jr. denies that he has suffered any longterm sequelae from any of these and claims that he’s in perfect health, to the point of posting:

OK, I’ll give him credit and admit that the two posts above are actually kind of funny, but one does have to wonder whether he suffers from any persistent cognitive problems, because:

Doctors who have treated parasitic infections and mercury poisoning said both conditions can sometimes permanently damage brain function, but patients also can have temporary symptoms and mount a full recovery.

Which category does RFK Jr. fall into? Who knows? Unfortunately, you don’t have to have a brainworm or mercury poisoning to be a raving antivax conspiracy theorist like RFK Jr. The reason that you shouldn’t vote for RFK Jr. isn’t because he had a brainworm or mercury poisoning. The reasons you shouldn’t vote for him are that he’s antivax and a raving conspiracy theorist who would likely destroy what’s left of our public health infrastructure and science-based public health and vaccine policies.

In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy articles like I’m the worm that ate part of RFK Jr.’s brain, and I’m asking for your vote who argues that “I am brave enough to say: I am a parasite, and I don’t understand what is best for the country!” I also recommend this Threads account, which hilariously posts as RFK Jr.’s brainworm.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

38 replies on “RFK Jr. has a brainworm? This explains an awful lot”

Bigtree’s calling him up rn saying “wowsers, bobby…first I nearly die from a brain bleed and then you have your brain eaten by a worm.”

Personally, I’m waiting for the conspiracy theories that he was intentionally infected to try to stop his activism.

That was my immediate thought as soon as I saw the first headline about this as well.

Probably showing my age.

RFK Jr. “said the tests showed his mercury levels were 10 times what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.”

Even if this claim is correct (and knowing Junior’s fraught relationship with the truth, there’s good reason to question it), it’s doubtful that his reported “brain fog” was due to methylmercury exposure. It’d be odd if his only symptoms were cognitive, given that significant mercury toxicity is commonly associated with physical signs and symptoms like tingling and numbness in extremities and muscle weakness, which he apparently didn’t report. And a 2005 paper published in JAMA looking at a population of older U.S. adults (age 50-70) didn’t lend credence to the mercury-causes-cognitive-decline theory.

“In summary, the study provided no compelling evidence that blood mercury levels were adversely associated with neurobehavioral test scores.”

As noted, there are already plenty of good reasons not to vote for His Worminess besides whatever part of his brain this supposed parasite ate.*

*significant volume loss in the prefrontal cortex might explain some of Junior’s lack of rational thinking and bizarre statements. He should release his medical records including the scans.

On reading this, I was wondering if he got numbers from the doctors who have been diagnosing children with mercury poisoning, which would also raise real questions about those numbers and their alleged effects, too.

I also agree that his anti-vaccine activism was, at the time, more likely to harm his earning capacity than any alleged mental issues.

By the way, from the above, I am still confused on whether there is actual confirmation that it was a worm and not a tumor (which would be very scary, though lend itself less to jokes).

RFK jr: ” I have cognitive problems, clearly.”
For once, I agree with him.
I’ve always wondered how, he, a lawyer, who was trained to look stuff up, was able to supposedly exhaustively search the literature about autism, vaccines, mercury and brain development and entirely miss vast amounts of research that rule out his major points. In other words, perhaps he was never really very good at this but enthralled by motivated reasoning and unencumbered ego and probably had major assistance for his more sane environmental research.

Also, although he doesn’t follow Kosher rules, avoiding pork, wouldn’t he, or more likely, his personal chef/ elite restaurant personnel, know that you have to cook pork thoroughly in order to avoid infestation? I know he’s travelled in less developed areas but don’t people generally know this worldwide? Someone I knew worked in resorts in tropical areas and knew a great deal about parasites in food, drinking and swimming water and how to avoid them.
Similarly, about mercury in fish: I don’t know how much he ate and how much he weighs, but wouldn’t he need to ingest an awful lot of tuna to get significant effects?
AND wouldn’t there be other symptoms beyond the ones that “affect his earning capacity”? Plus he isn’t exactly strapped for cash.

This story seems designed for Orac and Company!

The Washington Post recently had a profile of Junior and “Riverkeeper,” where veterans of that group said he was good at taking credit for others’ work.

It’s an endemic problem, including in environmental groups. Just because someone dislikes pollution doesn’t mean they treat other humans with respect.

Junior’s traumatized from his dad telling him as a kid that the CIA really did kill his uncle (in private, that was RFK’s understanding, not due to weird conspiracy claims on the internet but from deep involvement with how the Agency operates). However, Junior’s siblings had the same trauma and they’re not promoting Epoch Times / January 6 / ivermectin for viruses. I hope after November 5 he goes on a long meditation retreat with a vow of silence.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, RFK Junior is no RFK. KINO: Kennedy in name only.

This is what money and a famous name can get you: “Mr. Kennedy said he consulted several of the country’s top neurologists” and “several doctors” thoght he had a tumor. Most people would be lucky to get one of the country’s top neurologists to look at their case. I wonder if he told those doctors that he was looking for a third, fourth, or seventh opinion after several doctors had all told him the same thing.

Patients are often advised to ask for a second opinion, but did he tell them “I have a family history of brain cancer, and four doctors agree that I have a brain tumor, please tell me whether I really need surgery”?

The point at which I would ask for a third opinion would be if Dr. One said “Vicki, that looks like a tumor” and Dr. Two said “That’s a dead worm.” If Doctors One, Two, and Three all thought it was a tumor but disagreed about treatment, and Dr. Four said “Nope, that’s a dead worm, nothing to worry about” I wouldn’t take Dr. Four’s opinion as final.

It could have been Cystercercosis, would expect a little calcium residual on ct and a quick serology would answer the question. But Cystercercosis usually does not cause long term issues except seizures. He is a loon AND he had cystercercosis, not he is a loon BECAUSE of cystercercosis. I saw a case a year or so in my practice. And it doesn’t eat the brain, it pushes it aside as it forms a cyst. Most of the tissues damage, if any, comes as the worn dies and the resultant inflammatory response.

We have to assume he was simply lying to try to screw over the woman who was divorcing him (for his self-admitted constant infidelity) and note he claimed to have gotten all better once she committed suicide. Amazing coincidence.

I must admit than when I read the context about this claim, that it was associated with his divorce, I immediately suspected this was just a made up story to allow Kennedy to get out of paying as much.

So now, as amusing as I find the whole story, I am in the camp of requiring more evidence to accept it. I don’t really think Kennedy has cognitive decline, I am more of the thinking that he is just another lying narcissist.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have three choices for president:

1) A demented old man who forced his own daughter to shower with him who forgot he served as vice president

2) A “former” drug addict with brain eaten by worms

3) A “very stable genius” who cannot even concentrate to read a 5-page document.

Is that the best people that our 330-million-strong nation could produce? Something is wrong if you ask me

“ with him who forgot he served as vice president”

You go with every line of bullshit you can don’t you?

“ A “very stable genius” who cannot even concentrate to read a 5-page document.”

The very same person about whom you said charges and trials were fake? You spout so many lies and so much bullshit you can’t keep your flow of sewer-level thought straight

Yes the charges are fake and yes, he is unable to read a five page document and I do not see the contradiction.

There are convictions already.He made false documents to get better loan terms, so he surely can read documents.


blockquote>Yes the charges are fake

You keep using the word “fake”. It’s pretty clear you don’t know what it means, nor do you understand the concept of “evidence”.

Which charges, Igor?
Which charges?

The sexual assault? The campaign finance? The election interference? The document mishandling? The tax fraud? The other tax fraud? The state tax fraud or the federal tax fraud?

A demented old man who forced his own daughter to shower with him who forgot he served as vice president

Citations required.

Fellow and sister sceptics…

Sometimes we need to understand that we can’t educate or guide everyone who holds unrealistic, largely fanciful ideas/ CTs. People can be resistant and unaffected by logic, data, method, evidence, careful concern, real world examples and intense tutelage. Educators and counselors usually would like to believe that ‘everyone has a chance to learn’ but we know that that isn’t really true.

More than 10 years ago, I interacted with an anti-vaxxer who had graduated from a reasonable school and was about to study PH at another good school
despite his outlandish ideas about vaccines and his own ASD. He recited standard anti-vax tropes, believed Wakefield was ‘set up’ and opposed real data. I asked him if his ideas/ internet posts might cost him a future career- he said, “So what?” and whether he really believed that everything is a vast cover-up. ( he did!) He got an MPH somehow** but was tossed from further study.
His career included a personal blog, writing for Epoch Times, working on Trumps’s first campaign and “research” funded by an anti-vax group. He appeared at presentations harassing Orac and vaccine supporters like the editor of BMJ. His parents are rich so he was able to float around for years. Last year, I Iearned that he is working as an epidemiologist -in Florida- under an anti-vax surgeon general/ administration! But he would be totally unacceptable in most other places.
People may not change if they are being rewarded: this anti-vaxxer was acclaimed and encouraged to write, as a teenager, and supported by wealthy, anti-vax parents. PLUS his ideas enabled him to believe that he was “damaged” by vaccines and would never achieve his true ability. Vaccines, and writers like Orac were his downfall but he triumphed through sheer stubbornness, will power and persistence! HIs salary is a meager compared to his family wealth but he has a title!

Igor is beyond help. And no one will hire him to evaluate PH or to write for real outlets.

** Dr Najera has more on his thesis

Because regulars already know who it is but scoffers might have to search a little- which should be no problem at all for such great internet sleuths!– plus they’ll read informative posts that might enlighten them.

Oh, I assumed that it was one of those summoning things, a la Beetlejuice.

Yet another reason to not go to Florida.

I am appalled that nobody has given any thought for the (alleged) worm. Don’t worms have rights ?

Not if they are in my brain.

Though last Sunday I had a discussion with a friend of mine about snails in her garden, which she killed with beer.

Well, snails can carry rat lungworm, which is a horrible parasite in humans, so there’s a safety reason for not wanting snails (in addition to not wanting them to eat your garden).

I was at a garden show the other week where some group had a display up on how to get rid of snails and slugs that suggested using water with sugar and yeast to bait your traps, and I was like, duh! Why didn’t I think of that? That’s so much better than trying to buy one can or bottle of cheap beer. (I don’t drink most beers, and the ones I do drink are sours, so not good for bait and also I’m not wasting a hard to find beer on slugs.)

I offered some more animal-friendly alternatives, but she didn’t like them. Well, one advice was perhaps not friendly for snails, because it involved making the garden attractive for hedgehogs and birds, that would eat snails.

One onther advice was spraying garlic-water. And there was the advice to protect plants with small stones or wood-chips, because snails would have a hard time to crawl over them.

Crunched up eggshells are also a good snail repellent for much the same reason. Another method (but deadly) is to scatter hair around the garden. It wraps around snails and effectively garottes them.

Well, this is an interesting diversion from RFK Jr.’s brainworm.

The commercial bait of choice these days is ferric sodium EDTA as found in products like Corry’s Slug and Snail Killer, which causes snails and slugs that consume it to stop feeding right away*, and kills them within a few days. It’s much less toxic to dogs and other animals than the old bait, metaldehyde, and more convenient and less messy thn home remedies like beer in little saucers.

*there’s no known remedy that causes RFK Jr. to stop feeding on human ignorance, although a crushing defeat at the polls would help.

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