Tapeworms: causes, symptoms, and treatments

Tapeworms: causes, symptoms, and treatments

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that are shaped like a tape measure. A parasite is an animal or plant that lives inside another animal or plant. A tapeworm cannot live freely on its own - it survives within the gut of animals, including humans.

Tapeworm eggs normally enter the human host from animals via food, especially raw or undercooked meat.

Humans can also become infected if there is contact with animal feces or contaminated water. When an infection is passed from an animal to a human, it is called zoonosis.

Most people who have a tapeworm experience no symptoms and are unaware of hosting one. If signs and symptoms are present, they usually include tiredness, abdominal pain, weight loss, and diarrhea.

Anyone who has a tapeworm will need treatment to get rid of it. Treatment is 95 percent effective and can be completed in a few days.

Here are some key points about tapeworms. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Tapeworms are parasites that 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.
  • Oral medication is a common treatment.

Causes of tapeworm infection in humans

The Taenia solium (pork tapeworm)

In human beings, tapeworm infection is most commonly caused by the:

  • pork tapeworm (Taenia solium)
  • beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata)
  • dwarf tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana)
  • fish tapeworm from raw freshwater fish (Diphyllobothrium latum)

Most people become infected after ingesting tapeworm eggs or larvae. The common methods of infection include:

1) Ingestion of eggs

Eggs get into humans via:

  • food
  • water
  • contaminated soil (mainly contaminated with infected animal feces)

If a host, such as a pig, has a tapeworm inside, proglottids (worm segments) or eggs may be present in its feces, which drop onto the soil. Each segment may have thousands of eggs.

A human can become infected by:

  • drinking contaminated water
  • interacting with the animals and contaminated soil
  • consuming contaminated food

The eggs hatch into larvae (baby tapeworms) and make their way into the gut or outside, and infect other parts of the body. This type of infection is most common with tapeworms that come from infected pigs, and much less common if the original host was cattle or fish.

2) Eating infected meat or fish

If the meat or fish have larvae cysts and is undercooked or raw, the cysts can reach the intestine where they mature into adult tapeworms.

An adult tapeworm can:

  • live as long as 20 years
  • be up to 50 feet long
  • attach themselves to the walls of the intestine
  • pass through the human digestive system and end up in the toilet when stool is passed

Fish tapeworm infection is more common in countries where the consumption of raw fish is common practice, such as Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan. Undercooked or raw freshwater fish such as salmon, are the most common sources.

3) Human-to-human transmission

The dwarf tapeworm can be transmitted from human to human. It is the only tapeworm that can go through its entire life cycle - eggs-larvae-mature tapeworms - in one single host. Dwarf tapeworm infection is the most common tapeworm infection globally.

4) Insect-to-human transmission

Fleas and some types of beetles may pick up the eggs by eating the excrement (droppings) of infected rats or mice. These insects can infect humans. The insects are referred to as intermediate hosts - the tapeworm transitions from egg to the adult stage. This type of infection occurs with dwarf tapeworms, and is much more common in areas where hygiene practices are poor.

5) Reinfecting yourself

During treatment, humans can reinfect themselves if they do not follow good hygiene practices. The eggs will be present in human stool. If the individual does not wash their hands after going to the toilet, there is a risk of reinfection.

6) Dog tapeworm

Called echinococcosis, hydatid disease, or unilocular hydatid disease. Unilocular means the tapeworm larvae (cyst containing larvae) settles and stays in just one place in the body. Humans, especially children, may accidentally touch dog stool and eventually swallow the eggs when they touch their mouths with their hands. Infection is also possible by having close contact with dogs.

This type of tapeworm is more common in:

  • some parts of Australia
  • Greece
  • southern Spain
  • North and South America
  • Turkey
  • Asia

It is also more common in rural, rather than urban areas.

7) Ignoring risk factors for tapeworm infection

General lack of hygiene - if you wash your hands infrequently, the risk of transferring infection into your mouth is greater. Other risk factors include:

  • Working with or exposure to animals - this is especially the case in areas where feces are not disposed of effectively.
  • Traveling to or living in certain parts of the world - countries, and parts of some countries where sanitation practices are poor, the risk of becoming infected with a tapeworm is much greater.
  • Consuming raw or undercooked meats and fish - larvae and eggs present in meats and fish may infect people if eaten raw or undercooked. Experts say that sushi (raw fish) is safe if it has been frozen beforehand - the risk with fish is mainly freshwater fish.

Tapeworms symptoms in humans

Eggs of the tapeworm Taenia.

It is not uncommon for an infected person to have no apparent signs and symptoms. Even if symptoms are present, they may be so mild that many people believe they are caused by something else.

Symptoms may vary depending on the type of tapeworm, and they may include the following:

  • Eggs, larvae, or segments from the tapeworm in stools - the segments will contain tapeworm eggs.
  • Abdominal pain - this may include epigastric pain located in the upper abdomen.
  • Vomiting - sometimes intestinal blockage can occur.
  • Nausea - feeling sick or queasiness.
  • General weakness - fatigue and tiredness.
  • Inflammation of the intestine (enteritis) - which often causes diarrhea as well.
  • Diarrhea - which may increase the risk of dehydration.
  • Weight loss - nourishment is reduced due to the parasite, which may cause changes in weight.
  • Altered appetite - sometimes there may be a loss of appetite. However, hosts with the pork tapeworm may experience a rise in appetite.
  • Sleeping difficulties this may be as a result of other symptoms.
  • Dizziness difficulty maintaining balance or focus.
  • Convulsions seizures in severe cases.
  • Malnutrition due to the tapeworm is taking in a significant proportion of essential nutrients.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency - this is very rare and only among hosts infected with Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm).

Tapeworm infection diagnosis

Any individual who suspects tapeworm infection or has the symptoms described above should see their doctor. Some patients may notice infection themselves by checking their stool for parts of the adult tapeworm. However, a doctor is still needed to check the stool by sending samples to a lab. The doctor may also examine the area around the patient's anus for signs of eggs or larvae.

Diagnosing tapeworm larvae infection - the following diagnostic aids may be used, depending on the type of tapeworm larvae infection:

  • Blood tests - the aim here is to look for antibodies to infection.
  • Imaging scans - this could include a chest X-ray, ultrasound scan, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
  • Organ tests - the doctor may want to check that the organs are working properly.

Tapeworm treatments

Treating tapeworm larvae infection is more complicated than treating an adult tapeworm infection. While the adult tapeworm stays in the gut, the larvae may settle in other parts of the body. When larvae infection finally produces symptoms, the infection may have been present for years. In some rare cases, larvae infection can be life-threatening.

Oral medications

Oral medications may be prescribed. The digestive system does not absorb these drugs well. They either dissolve or attack (and kill) the adult tapeworm.

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, in order to prevent vomiting, which can lead to reinfection by swallowing the tapeworm larvae, they may be given an anti-emetic medication, which prevents vomiting.

The patient's stools will be checked several times 1-3 months after the course of medication. These medications, if procedures are followed properly, are 95 percent effective.

Anti-inflammatory medication

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 development of cysts.

Tapeworm surgery

If the patient has life-threatening cysts that have developed in vital organs, such as the lungs or liver, surgery may be required. The doctor may inject a cyst with medication, such as formalin, to destroy the larvae before removing the cyst. In some cases, the patient may need organ transplantation.

Complications of tapeworm infection

The risk of complications depends on several factors, including the type of tapeworm and whether or not the patient receives treatment:

  • Beef tapeworm - as the beef tapeworm lives in the gut and can easily be treated, it is relatively harmless.
  • Cysticercosis - if a human ingests pork tapeworm eggs there is a risk of larvae infection (cysticercosis). The larvae can exit the intestine and infect tissues and organs elsewhere in the body, resulting in lesions or cysts.
  • Neurocysticercosis - a dangerous complication of pork tapeworm infection. The brain and nervous system are affected. The patient may have headaches, vision problems, seizures, meningitis, and confusion. In very severe cases the infection can be fatal.
  • Echinococcosis (hydatid disease) - the echinococcus tapeworm can cause an infection called echinococcosis. The larvae leave the gut and infect organs, most commonly the liver. The infection can result in large cysts, which place pressure on nearby blood vessels and affect circulation. In severe cases, surgery or liver transplantation is required.

Tapeworm prevention

  • Good hygiene - wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating.
  • Food precautions - in an area where tapeworms are common, make sure to wash and cook all fruits and vegetables with clean water.
  • Livestock - properly dispose of animal and human feces. Minimize animal exposure to tapeworm eggs.
  • Meat - cook meat to a temperature of at least 150 °F (66 °C) thoroughly. This will kill larvae or eggs.
  • Meat and fish - freeze fish and meat for at least 7 days. This will kill tapeworm eggs and larvae.
  • Raw foods - do not consume raw or undercooked pork, beef, and fish.
  • Dogs - make sure your dog is treated for tapeworms. Take special care with your own personal hygiene. Make sure your dog only eats cooked meat and fish.
  • Kitchen hygiene - make sure all work surfaces are regularly cleaned and disinfected.

Do not allow raw foods to touch other foods. Wash hands after touching raw meat or fish. Experts say that smoking or drying meat or fish is not a reliable way of killing larvae or eggs.

Tapeworm Symptoms -- With Simple Ideas to Kill Them! (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Disease