Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by Kirchheimer S
(Taeniasis; Cysticercosis)

Definition

Tapeworms are large, flat parasites. They can live in the intestines of animal, including humans. There are different types of tapeworms but this article will focus on pork tapeworms.

They are passed to humans who consume foods or water contaminated with tapeworm.

Six types of tapeworms are known to infect humans. They are usually divided by their source of infestation. beef, pork, fish, dog, rodent, and dwarf (because it is small).

Digestive Pathway
Digestive pathway
Tapeworms enter the human body with contaminated food or water and remain in the intestines.
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Causes

Tapeworm infection in people usually results from eating undercooked foods from infected animals. Pigs or cattle, for example, become infected when grazing in pastures or drinking contaminated water. People can also become infected by eating contaminated fish that is raw or undercooked.

The parasites mature in the animal’s intestines to pea-shaped larvae. They spread to the animal's blood and muscles. They are then transmitted to people who eat the contaminated food. This method is more common with beef or fish.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the chances of a tapeworm:

  • Eating raw or undercooked pork, beef, or fish
  • Poor hygiene—not washing your hands can increase the risk of transferring tapeworm parasites by hand-to-mouth contact
  • Exposure to cattle or pigs, particularly in areas where human and animal feces are not properly disposed
  • Travel to underdeveloped countries with poor sanitary conditions

Symptoms

Tapeworms may be seen in vomit or stool. In some cases, tapeworm infection may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Hunger or loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Seizures in rare cases of pork tapeworm

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be able to self-diagnose tapeworm infection by checking your stool for signs of tapeworms.

Your bodily fluids and waste may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood test
  • Stool test

Images of your brain may be taken if there is concern that the larva of the pork tapeworm have migrated there. This can be done with:

Treatment

Tapeworm infection is treated with oral medication. The medications work by dissolving or attacking the adult tapeworm. The medications may not target eggs.

Surgery may occasionally be needed for pork tapeworm larvae in the brain

Proper hygiene is essential to avoid re-infection. Always wash your hands before eating or after going to the bathroom.

Your doctor will check stool samples at 1 and 3 months after you've finished taking your medication.

Prevention

To help reduce the chances of a tapeworm infection:

  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water before eating or handling food
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet.
  • Freeze meat for 4 days or longer to kill the type of tapeworm that infects pork.
  • Thoroughly cook meat at temperatures of at least 150°F (65°C). Avoid eating raw or undercooked food.
  • When traveling in undeveloped countries, wash and cook all fruits and vegetables with safe water before eating.
  • Get prompt treatment for pets infected with tapeworm.

RESOURCES

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

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

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Association of Gastroenterology  https://www.cag-acg.org 

Public Health Agency of Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Beef tapeworm. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114440/Beef-tapeworm . Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler's Health—Yellow Book: Taeniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/taeniasis. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.

Pork tapeworm and cysticercosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115222/Pork-tapeworm-and-cysticercosis . Updated October 9, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.

Silva CV, Costa-Cruz JM. A glance at Taenia Saginata infection, diagnosis, vaccine, biological control and treatment. Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2010;10(5):313-321.

5/6/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115222/Pork-tapeworm-and-cysticercosis : Quet F, Guerchet M, Pion SD, Ngoungou EB, Nicoletti A, Preux PM. Meta-analysis of the association between cysticercosis and epilepsy in Africa. Epilepsia. 2010;51(5):830-837.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 04/2018
  • Update Date: 05/11/2013