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Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by Horn D

Definition

Tapeworms are large, flat worms. They live in the intestines of animals, such as pigs. They are passed through contaminated foods or water.

Cysticercosis is an infection from the larval cysts of the pork tapeworm. It may happen in any part of the body. When it happens in the brain, it is known as neurocysticercosis.

Causes

Tapeworm infection often comes from eating undercooked foods, like pork.

Pigs become infected when grazing in pastures or drinking contaminated water. The worms mature in the animal’s intestines. They spread to the animal's blood and muscles. They are then spread to people who eat the contaminated food.

Tapeworms can also be passed by touching a surface that has tapeworm eggs and then touching your mouth. This method is more common with pork.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise your risk are:

  • Eating raw or undercooked pork
  • Not washing your hands when you work with pork
  • Being around pigs, such as in places where feces are not disposed of the right way
  • Travel to underdeveloped countries

Symptoms

Cysticercosis may not always cause symptoms. When they do happen, you may have:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle movements you can’t control
  • Muscle weak pain and lack of strength
  • Bumps under the skin
  • Eye pain and changes in sight
  • Confusion
  • Changes in behavior
  • Seizures and headaches

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may ask about foods you eat. You may also be asked if you have traveled. This infection can be hard to spot. The doctor may rule out other issues first.

Pictures of your brain may be taken if your doctor thinks that larva have migrated there. This can be done with:

Treatment

Cysticercosis without symptoms may not need to be treated. Your body may be able to fight it off on its own. Medicine may be needed for an infection that causes problems.

Surgery may be needed if the larva has caused painful cysts. They may appear in skin or muscles.

Neurocysticercosis will need to be treated. You may need:

  • Anti-parasitic drugs
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Corticosteroids to lower swelling and pressure in the brain
  • Surgery to ease pressure in the brain

Prevention

To lower your chance of a tapeworm infection:

  • Wash your hands often.
    • Wash before eating.
    • Wash before and after your handle raw meat.
    • Wash your hands after using the toilet.
  • Freeze meat for 4 days or longer to kill this type of tapeworm.
  • Cook meat at a heat of at least 150 °F (degrees Fahrenheit) (65 °C [degrees Celsius]). Do not eat raw or undercooked food.
  • When you travel to undeveloped countries, wash and cook all fruits and veggies with safe water before eating.

RESOURCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  http://www.cdc.gov 

The World Health Organization  http://www.who.int 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

Public Health Agency of Canada  http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca 

References

Cysticercosis. National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/cysticercosis/#symptoms. Published 2009. Accessed August 20, 2020.

Parasites—cysticercosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/cysticercosis/. Accessed August 20, 2020.

What is taeniasis and cysticercosis? World Health Organization website. Available at: http://www.who.int/taeniasis/disease/symptoms/en/. Accessed August 20, 2020.

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