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Tapeworms In Humans Symptoms Causes Treatment Preventions & More All you need to know

December 30, 2021

Tapeworms infection in humans can cause severe health problems. Experiencing nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, weakness, weight loss, and diarrhea? Must consider the possibility of tapeworm presence if the condition prolongs.

Tapeworm infection can be caused by multiple reasons like eating contaminated food or ingesting the contaminating water by larvae or eggs of the tapeworm.

When tapeworm eggs are ingested, they slowly creep towards the intestine and cause an invasive infection in different organs and tissue.

If larvae of the tapeworm are ingested, they migrate to the intestines and develop an intestinal infection by growing into an adult parasite.

A tapeworm is an intestinal parasite of humans that resides inside the intestines and takes nutrition causing deprivation of important nutrients in a host. It consists of the head, neck, and segments which are chain-like called the proglottids.

Tapeworms In Humans Symptoms Causes Treatment Preventions

The body form of the tapeworm is flat with 1000 or more proglottids. A proglottid can be 2 cm long and 1.5 cm in width. A single proglottid may have almost 5000 or more eggs in it. 

Mostly, tapeworm infections are mild in adult humans. However, if the infections persist long, they can cause severe complications. A tapeworm can survive up to 30 years in humans.

What are the symptoms of tapeworm infection in Humans?

Symptoms of tapeworm infection vary depending upon the type of tapeworm and the predilection site of the tapeworm. Infections are basically of two types.

 Intestinal infection or invasive infection. Both have some specific signs and symptoms.

The infection spreads by the ingestion of larvae or eggs. Two main types of cestodes (tapeworms) T. Saginata and T. Solium causes disease in humans. The final host of both types is human.

 However, the intermediate host for T. Solium is pig while for T. Saginata is cattle which causes infection in humans if beef or pork is eaten uncooked.

Intestinal infections may include the following symptoms:

  • Taeniasis:

Tapeworms can cause Taeniasis in which no obvious signs appear but the parasite causes continuous harm to the host without showing clinical signs.

Abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and nausea may be seen in it.

  • Nutritional deficiency in host:

Tapeworm is a parasite that draws its nutrition from the human host. All the important nutrients and minerals are taken up by the tapeworm while the host remains undernourished.

  • Intestinal and abdominal discomfort

Complications of the intestines like diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and altered digestion are noticeable during tapeworm infection.  Chronic indigestion is a pathognomonic symptom of the infection.

  • Nausea and anorexia

Another suggesting symptom of the tapeworm infection in humans is nausea after eating food. The most common symptom is the loss of appetite or anorexia which occurs due to chronic indigestion and intestinal obstruction because of tapeworm presence in the intestine.

  • Weakness and dizziness:

Tapeworms reside in the intestines and damage the crypt cells and villi through which nutrients from food are absorbed in the body.

In a tapeworm, infection nutrients are not properly absorbed through villi of the intestines which results in loss of essential nutrients.

 Moreover, lots of engulfed food is utilized by tapeworm itself which deprives the host of its legitimate nutrition leading to weakness and dizziness.

What are the Symptoms of invasive infection?

Not all tapeworms reside in the intestine, they may breach the barrier and can go to multiple tissues where they form cysts and nodules. Multiple organs and tissues are affected by clinical symptoms.

  • Subcutaneous nodules: these can be seen at multiple places in the head, neck, tongue, armpits, limbs, and abdomen in long-term infection.
  • Eye infection: Eye form of infection can be seen in autoinfection caused by Cysticercus of the T. Solium. These tapeworms may reside in the vitreous body of the subretinal space of the eye leading to blindness.
  • Brain form: Another rare form of the brain can also be seen in tapeworm infection in which headache, nausea, epilepsy, and many other disorders are manifested.
  • Allergic reactions can also be seen in some patients
  • In severe cases, heart lungs, connective tissue, and skeletal muscles are also affected.

What are the types of Tapeworms that infect Humans?

Six kinds of tapeworms are present which infect humans. The name of their types depends on their origin from intermediate hosts. The most common tapeworms that cause infection in humans are given below.

  • Taenia Solium – present in the pork. Also called the hookworm because of the presence of four suckers and rostellum that has small and large hooks in it. 13 hooks of the same size are present in them.
  • Taenia Saginata– present in the beef meat. T. Saginata has four suckers but rostellum and hooks are missing in these species.
  • Diphyllobothrium latum – present in the fish meat.

What are the causes of Tapeworm Infection in Humans?

Tapeworm infection requires ingestion of eggs and larvae of the tapeworms.

Tapeworm egg ingestion:

It occurs through water or food may lead to tapeworm infection. Microscopic eggs are released in feces which come in contact with the soil it may contaminate the water or food.

When such food or water is used for human consumption, these eggs grow into larvae and ultimately mature to become a tapeworm which causes infection.

Ingestion of Larvae cysts through meat:

Cysticercus form of the tapeworm causes invasive infection in which these tapeworms reside in tissues and muscles of the intermediate hosts like cattle, pigs, and fish.

 When the meat of such infected animal is eaten by humans, these Cysticercus are ingested through food which leads to infection.   

Animals are the intermediate hosts for tapeworms. Pig is an intermediate host for Taenia Solium while cattle are an intermediate host for Taenia Saginata. The main source of infection is eating the meat of infected animals.

What are the major risk factors associated with tapeworm infection?

 Following predisposing factors may lead to tapeworm infection in humans.

  1. Eating uncooked/undercooked Meat:

One of the most important factors that contribute to tapeworm infection in humans is not paying attention to proper cooking of pork, beef, and fish meat.

Cysts are developed in muscles and meat of the beef, pig, and fish which are intermediate hosts of different species of tapeworms.

When these are cooked properly their eggs and larvae are destroyed. If such meat having larvae inside them is undercooked, it may lead to ingestion of these eggs which mature and cause infection afterward.

  • Poor hygienic measures:

When water and food that are being consumed from humans are contaminated with feces of either intermediate hosts like cattle or pigs it may be the source of ingestion of eggs of tapeworms.

Infrequent hand washing by an infected person after going to the washroom may also be the reason for the spread of infection to humans.

  • Close contact between humans and animals:

A place or underdeveloped area where there is no hygienic barrier between humans and animals is more prone to having a high rate of infection than other areas.

During milking, handling, or management of cattle feces may contaminate milk, water, or the person because of direct contact with feces having eggs in it.

  • Consumption of soil by children:

One major source of infection is soil consumption by children during the age of 3 to 8 years. They have a habit of licking the soil so if that soil is contaminated with eggs or larvae of tapeworms.

This will result in tapeworm infection at a juvenile age which may persist.

  • Residing in an endemically affected area:

Tapeworm infection is endemic in certain areas because of the presence of intermediate hosts like cattle and pigs or where people directly eat them.

For example, some areas of China, Latin America, Southeast Asia are endemic for tapeworm infection.

  • Poor countries or areas:

The main cause of tapeworm infection is lack of sanitary measures and poor hygienic conditions. Poor countries don’t pay as much attention to hygiene which results in contamination of food and water.

Drinking contaminated water and eating such food is a major source of infection.

What could be the possible complications of tapeworm infection?

Along with minor digestion problems and loss of weight and appetite. Some complications may arise if the infection persists long-term. Following major complications can be seen:

  • Cysticercosis:  Systemic cysticercosis because of prolonged infection. Neurocysticercosis is a dangerous outcome.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Because of poor absorption and nutrient loss
  • Intestinal obstruction: Due to an increase in the size of the tapeworm over time.
  • Cholecystitis and pancreatitis in rare cases.
  • Cyst rupture may also be seen in certain cases.
  • Iron deficiency.
  • Appendicitis due to leading infection because of blockage of the intestine with tapeworm.

When to See a doctor, if you suspect tapeworm infection?

Initial symptoms of tapeworm infection are mild which is not problematic even many times infection is subclinical and the person himself doesn’t even know that he’s infected with tapeworm.

Reach out to the doctor if the following symptoms appear and prolong for a while.

  • Experience Nausea and loss of appetite for several days.
  • Persisting diarrhea that can’t even be treated with antidiarrheal drugs.
  • Feel long-term abdominal pain and loss of weight with emaciation.
  • Pay attention to lesions or ulcers in the head, armpits, abdomen, and tongue. Must see a doctor when brain form is started with seizures, headache, epilepsy, or any stress starts.

What is the diagnosis of tapeworm infection in humans?

History and some lab samples can be taken to confirm the tapeworm infection.

  • History: Proper history should be taken from the patient, by asking about the symptoms and type of nutrition conclusion should be drawn. If the situation is still not clear lab tests and X-rays.
  • Anal Swabs: Swabs from the anal can be taken to confirm the presence of eggs in the feces. The cellophane tape method can be used to find out the gravid proglottids.
  • A fecal sample can be collected and observed to find out the tapeworm segments.
  • X-ray / MRI (Managing resonance imaging) / CT (Computed tomography) can be used to confirm the neurocysticercosis.
  • Biopsy samples are used to confirm the subcutaneous form of tapeworm infection.
  • Serological tests
  • Molecular tests
  • Eosinophilia test report

What is the treatment of tapeworm infection in humans?

Praziquantel (Biltricide) or niclosamide is the drug of choice for intestinal infections.

 It increases the membrane permeability of the tapeworm for calcium ions. It causes muscle contraction and paralysis of the worms. It is 85-98% effective against tapeworm infections

  • Albendazole (Albenza) is an anthelminthic agent which is effective in certain conditions.
  • Vitamin B12 can be given through the parental route if vitamin B12 deficiency is noted.
  • Carbamazepine can be used to treat as antiepileptic caused due to neurocysticercosis.
  • Nitazoxanide shows great results against tapeworm infections.
  •  Sparganosis treatment can be applied in which surgical excision of infections is performed.

What home remedies can be followed for tapeworm infection treatment?

Some homemade remedies can also be used to treat or lessen the effect of tapeworms.

  • Papaya seeds are effective against parasitic infections caused by tapeworms. Mix the seeds with honey or soak them in apple vinegar for one day and then eat them.
  • Some natural dewormers like garlic, pumpkin, and ginger help in relieving tapeworms.

What are the preventive measures to avoid tapeworm infection?

First of all, we should be aware of the root cause of the infection and its transmission. It is transmitted through feces, soil, or contaminated food and water. Following preventive measures can be taken.

  • Avoid raw meat consumption from cattle, pigs, and fish.
  • Thoroughly cook the meat at 71 °C or above. And for storage, freeze the meat at -4°C during storage to avoid contamination.
  • Carry out sanitary measures wash hands and before eating because hands might carry the eggs.
  • Keep a barrier between you and the livestock if you are working there because you are directly in contact with the intermediate hosts.
  • While traveling to areas where tapeworm infection is endemic be extra careful to wash hands regularly, cook meat thoroughly and buy from only certified abattoirs.
  • Educate people about the source of infection and the possible factors which lead to infection in humans.
  • Take extra care of babies and children of age less than 10 years, because they might lick the soil which is contaminated with the tapeworm eggs.
  • If possible, chemically treat meat, vegetables, and raw fruits before using if the disease is endemic in the area. 
Abdur Rashid
Medically Reviewed By Abdur Rashid
MSC Public Health, MCSP, MHCPC
BSC (Hon) Physiotherapy
Consultant Neuro-spinal & Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

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