Most people consider tapeworm to be an infection problem that affects cats and dogs. Although animals are more prone to these types of infections, human beings can also become infected.
This usually happens by eating raw or undercooked beef, pork, or fish. Infected individuals can spread tapeworm infection by inadequate hygiene and failure to properly wash their hands after defecating and before preparing food.
Treatment is important because tapeworm infections can result in serious complications including cysticercosis, of tissue infection that can cause seizures, and most of the time, people infected with tapeworms will experience few symptoms.
Tapeworms are flat, segmented worms that live in the intestines. Animals can become infected with these parasites when grazing in pastures or drinking contaminated water while eating undercooked meat from infected animals is the main cause of tapeworm infection in people.
Tapeworms in humans usually cause few symptoms and are easily treated, but can sometimes cause serious, life-threatening problems.
It’s thus important to recognize the symptoms and know how to protect yourself and your family.
Facts On Tapeworms
Tapeworms are parasites. Parasites survive within another organism, known as the host. They grow after the host ingests the eggs of the tapeworm.
Drinking contaminated water and eating contaminated food are the primary causes, but using oral medication is a common mode of treatment.
Six types of tapeworms are known to infect human beings. They are usually identified by the animals they come from.
- Taenia Saginata – beef,
- Taenia Solium – pork, and
- Diphyllobothrium Latum – fish.
Tapeworms have a three-stage life cycle: egg- larva, and adult stage. Because the larvae can get into the muscles of their hosts, an infection can occur when you eat raw or undercooked meat from an infected animal host.
Because tapeworm eggs are passed with movements, it is also possible to contract tapeworms from foods prepared by an infected person. A person who doesn’t wash hands well after wiping and then prepares food can infect the food.
Symptoms of Tapeworm
Most people who have a tapeworm experience no symptoms and are unaware of harboring one. However, if signs and symptoms are present, they usually include:
- abdominal pain,
- weight loss, and
- inflammation of the intestine
- altered appetite
- Sleeping difficulties as a result of other symptoms.
- Convulsions in severe cases.
- vitamin B12 deficiency in very rare cases
The risk of complications depends on the type of tapeworm, and several factors, including whether or not the patient receives treatment.
If a human ingests pork tapeworm eggs there is a risk of larvae infection, which can exit the intestine and infect tissues and organs elsewhere in the body. This may result in lesions or cysts.
This is a dangerous complication of pork tapeworm infection, where the brain and nervous system are affected. The patient may have headaches, vision problems, seizures, meningitis, and misperception. In very severe cases the infection can be terminal.
Echinococcosis, or hydatid disease
The Echinococcus tapeworm can cause an infection called echinococcosis, where the larvae leave the gut and infect organs, mostly the liver. The infection can result in large cysts, which place pressure on nearby blood vessels and upset blood circulation. Surgery or liver transplantation may be required in severe cases.
Treating tapeworm larvae infection may be more complicated than treating an adult tapeworm infection.
The adult tapeworm mostly stays in the gut, but the larvae may settle in other parts of the body including major organs. When a larvae infection finally produces symptoms, the infection may have been present for years, and it sometimes can be life-threatening.
Oral medications are common and may be prescribed. The digestive system does not absorb these drugs well, and they either dissolve or attack and kill the adult tapeworm.
Sometimes, a doctor may advise the patient to take a laxative to help the tapeworm come out in the stools. If the patient has a pork tapeworm infection, they may be given an anti-emetic medication, which prevents such patients from vomiting.
Vomiting during a tapeworm infection can lead to reinfection by swallowing the tapeworm larvae,
The patient’s stools will be checked several times, lasting up to 3 months after the course of medication, and if procedures are followed properly, they are 95% effective.
Ant parasitic drugs used to treat intestinal infections may include:
- praziquantel (Biltricide)
- albendazole (Albenza)
- nitazoxanide (Alinia)
After completing treatment, you’ll have a follow-up stool sample for up to 3 months to ensure the infection has cleared.
If the infection affects tissues outside the intestine, the patient may have to take a course of anti-inflammatory steroids to reduce swelling caused by the growth of cysts.
If the patient has life-threatening cysts that have developed in vital organs, like the lungs or liver, surgery may be required. A doctor may inject a cyst with medication, such as formalin, to destroy the larvae before removing the cyst.
How To Prevent Tapeworms In Humans
Tapeworm infections are preventable, and that starts with good hygiene. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food.
Wash your hands with warm soapy water, making sure to lather the soap and rub your hands together for 20 seconds.
You can also protect yourself by washing fruits and vegetables before eating and make sure meat is completely cooked before consuming. Eating raw or undercooked pork, beef, or fish raises the risk of getting infected.
If you suspect tapeworms in a family pet, speak with your veterinarian for checkup and treatment.