Tapeworm is often found in the intestine of animals and humans can get tapeworm infection by ingesting food that contains the tapeworm. Eating contaminated food and raw meat of infected animals is the main cause of getting this infection. Tapeworm can be ingested in the form of eggs or larvae and they are capable of causing invasive infection affecting tissues and organs and intestinal infections affecting your intestine.
Tapeworm has 3 main parts namely a head, a neck and a series of segmants or proglottids. An adult tapeworm can live in the body of the host for 30 years or even more. Tapeworm infections are not much serious normally but in rare cases it can be serious.
Tapeworm infection can be accidentally ingested in the form of eggs or larvae.
- In the form of Eggs :
Soil can get contaminated with the feces of infected animals like pigs and cattle and when a person gets in contact with the soil he can get tapeworm infection. The contaminated soil particles can mix with food or water particles which can be ingested by man. These eggs will enter into your body and grow into larvae and then into an adult.
- In the form of Larvae :
This kind of infection largely occurs when you eat undercooked meat of infected animals. The larvae cyst of tapeworm is found in the muscle tissue of animals which then enters into the body to grow into an adult.
An adult tapeworm can grow up to 15 meters long and they get attached into the walls of the intestine with their head to produce subsequent eggs and larvae which are released through the feces. When an infected person prepares your food without washing his hands properly (after using toilet) the food gets contaminated.
Some of the common symptoms of tapeworm infection (intestine infection) are abdominal pain, diarrhea, general weakness, loss of appetite and fatigue. The nutrients of food may not be fully absorbed and the person may lose weight. Not all the individuals who contain tapeworm would get symptoms. For some people, the segments of the worm would pass into the stools that can be visibly seen.
In rare cases, tapeworm can cause complications by moving into other body parts causing damage to the brain, liver and heart which can become serious and life-threatening. Tapeworm can cause damage to tissues and organs when they release more number of cysts once inside your body. It can produce symptoms like fever, lumps, allergic reactions and even seizures.
Who are at risk?
People who follow poor hygiene by not washing hands properly, people with high exposure to livestock (when handling feces of animals) and people who frequently travel to poor sanitation places and people who eat undercooked meat are at high risk of developing tapeworm infection. Southeast Asian countries, China and sub Saharan Africa are prone to develop tapeworm infection.
Tapeworm would not cause any complications often. Only in rare cases when it grows too big it can block the digestive organs like appendix, or it can infect brain or nervous system causing seizures. In extreme cases, the larvae can migrate to lungs or liver thereby reducing blood supply to vital organs.
Your doctor may observe the symptoms and may request for stool analysis under a microscope to verify the presence of eggs of tapeworm. Blood test will be done to check the count of antibodies in the blood indicating any infection.
Mostly tapeworm infection does not need any treatment since it would expel from your body through feces. People with intestinal infection can get some symptoms which may need treatment. Oral medications like Praziquantel, albendazole or nitazoxanide are given to kill the adult tapeworm inside your body which is then expelled from your body. You will be tested for stool sample subsequently at fixed intervals to ensure that the tapeworm is not in your body in any form of eggs or larvae.
People who have developed invasive infections are treated with anthelmintic drugs like albenza or anti-inflammatory drugs. If the person has developed seizures anti-epileptic medications are prescribed. In extreme cases surgical intervention is required for removing large number of cysts in the digestive system or liver if they block the function of organ.
Tips for Prevention :
- Avoid eating undercooked meat and fish.
- Follow good hygiene in washing hands properly before eating food.
- People who handle livestock should be very careful while eliminating the feces of infected animals.