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Human Tapeworm - Intestinal Parasite Infection

Human Tapeworm - Intestinal Parasite Infection

Humans may expose themselves to tapeworm infections when they come in contact with the microscopic larvae of the tapeworm species. In fact, most of us may not even realize that the parasite is dwelling within us.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Apr 11, 2018
Humans contract a tapeworm infection when they consume undercooked fish and meat―beef, or pork―of an infected animal. Tapeworms could also enter the human body if one consumes food or water contaminated with the larvae.
Tapeworms are parasites that need a host to dwell. There are two types of infections that may occur in the human body due to tapeworms: (1) Intestinal infection; and (2) Invasive infection. Intestinal infection is when the ingested tapeworm larvae develops and becomes an adult tapeworm living in your intestines. This type of an infection is usually mild and asymptomatic. It is also easily treatable through medicines. The other type of infection―invasive infection―occurs when the larvae travels outside the intestines and forms cysts in other parts of the body, which may include the liver and lungs, thereby causing serious complications. In this HealthHearty article, we shall be focusing on the intestinal tapeworm infection.
There are different types of tapeworms that infect the human body. Some of them include the following species: Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm), Taenia solium (pork tapeworm), and Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm). The following section will help you understand how these parasites enter our system.
Causes
Human tapeworm intestinal parasite infection
➦ Raw/Undercooked Meat and Fish: One of the most common causes of contracting this infection is eating raw or undercooked meat of the animal infected by the tapeworm. As you can see in the diagram above, animals, like cows and pigs obtain the infection from the environment―soil contaminated with the tapeworm eggs or larvae. These larvae may form cysts in their muscle tissues, which in turn, gets ingested by us humans when we eat meat that is not cooked properly.

☞ Prevention: This cause can only be curbed by assuring that the meat you consume is cooked properly. It is advisable to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the cooked meat. USDA recommends to cook whole cuts of meat (excluding poultry) at 145° F, measured at the thickest part. The meat should be allowed to rest for three minutes before consumption. Ground meat (excluding poultry) should be cooked at 160° F.
➦ Contaminated Water/Food: Accidentally consuming water or food that is contaminated with the tapeworm larvae is another cause of obtaining this infection. For example, feces of an infected animal mixes up in the soil or children or adults may touch the contaminated soil, thereby touching the mouth with the same hands. Similarly, the larvae may get transferred in the food or drinks, as well.

☞ Prevention: The prevention is as simple as it could be; wash your hands properly with soap. While we may pick up an apple from the fridge immediately after a soccer match, it is imperative to eat or drink only after washing our hands properly.
➦ Unhygienic Lifestyle: If a human is infected with tapeworms, larvae will be present in the feces. The larvae may be present in the toilet if proper sanitation is not maintained. Not washing the hands after using the toilet may make one susceptible to contract an infection.

☞ Prevention: Ensure that you do not touch your mouth, drink, or eat with unwashed hands after using the toilet. Always wash your hands properly with a soap and only then touch anything else.
➦ Traveling: Certain areas are more susceptible to these infections than others. For instance, developing or undeveloped countries are likely to have livestock out in the open, with possibilities of improper disposal of their feces.

☞ Prevention: One must be extra cautious while traveling to such areas. Ensure that you wash your hands properly before eating or drinking anything. Even the vegetables and fruits should be washed properly before consumption.
Symptoms
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fish tapeworm is the largest tapeworm which can grow as long as 30 feet! An amusing fact about this infestation is that most of these infections are asymptomatic; yes, most of the people don't even realize that they have "tapeworms" in their intestines!
The symptoms (if any) depend upon the type of tapeworm in your body. Small-sized tapeworms usually go unnoticed, whereas larger tapeworms may pose possible complications such as blockage of the bile duct, pancreatic duct, and the appendix. There are some cases where the following symptoms may occur:

➦ Abdominal pain
➦ Weight loss
➦ Loss of appetite
➦ Nausea
➦ Weakness
➦ Upset stomach
Most of the people find out about this infection only when they see segments of the tapeworm in their feces. As disgusting as it may sound, the fact is that during an intestinal infection, the larvae of the tapeworm develops into an adult tapeworm, which may live within you for as long as 20 years!
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
In order to diagnose an intestinal tapeworm infection, the best method is to check your stool, as the segments of the tapeworm and the larvae are likely to be present in it. Your doctor may collect your stool samples at least two or three times within a period of time to diagnose the presence of the parasite.

Intake of oral medications is the most common and effective option to treat intestinal infection. Prescribed medications like praziquantel, niclosamide, albendazole, and nitazoxanide prove to be toxic to adult tapeworms. Your doctor may prescribe either of these, depending upon the type of tapeworm infection. Your stool samples may be evaluated regularly by the doctor to ensure that the infection has been cleared and no larvae is present in the sample. Precautionary measures should be taken regularly for prevention.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is meant for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice.
Doctor
Doctors doing testing
Doctor giving injection to patient