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Tapeworm Infection


Disease: Tapeworm Infection Tapeworm Infection
Category: Infectious diseases

Disease Definition:

This infection occurs when a person ingests food or water containing the eggs or larvae of tapeworm. There are two common types of tapeworm infection; invasive tapeworm infection, in which eggs can penetrate the intestines and migrate to other parts of the body forming cysts, and intestinal tapeworm infection, which occurs in case of larvae ingestion that develop in the intestines to form adult tapeworms.


An adult tapeworm has a head, a neck and proglottids which are connected segments forming a chain. In cases of intestinal tapeworm infection, the worm attaches itself to the intestine wall using its head and the proglottids grow and produce eggs. A tapeworm can survive 20 years in the intestines of its host. In contrast to intestinal tapeworm infection, invasive tapeworm infection can cause quite serious complications.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


In most cases, the intestinal tapeworm infection can go unnoticed, and even if felt, its symptoms may vary in accordance to its location and type. Invasive tapeworm infection symptoms vary with the location of larvae migration.


Intestinal infection:

Some of its signs and symptoms are:


  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inefficiency in food absorption leading to weight loss.


Invasive infection:

In case of larvae migration, the developing tapeworm can cause tissue and organ damage as it forms cysts. The symptoms can be summarized in:


  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Allergic reactions to the larvae
  • Neurological symptoms or seizures
  • Cystic masses or lumps
  • Bacterial infections


Most infections in humans occur due to the following types of tapeworm:


  • Pork tapeworm (Taenia solium)
  • Beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata)
  • Dwarf tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana)
  • Fish tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium latum)


After the digestion of eggs or larvae is when the infection begins.


Ingestion of eggs:

Eggs are usually present in the feces of an infected animal. When the infected feces come into contact with the food or water that is consumed by a person, microscopic eggs reach the intestines where they develop into larvae. This is where the larvae assume mobility and become capable of penetrating the intestine wall and circulate with the blood to locate itself in the tissues or organs such as the lungs or the liver, as is the case with Taenia solium more than the other types.


Ingestion of larvae cysts from meat or muscle tissue:

Tapeworm larvae locate itself in the muscle tissues of an infected animal. These tissues, when eaten raw or undercooked, make way to the ingestion of larvae, which when reach the intestines begin to develop into adult tapeworms. When the proper environment is provided by the host, tapeworms can grow up to 15m long and can survive for 20 years. Some of them may succeed in staying in the host by attaching themselves to the wall of the host’s intestine, others who fail to do so exit the digestive system with the stool.


There are some factors that increase a person’s susceptibility to tapeworm infection:


  • Poor hygiene: Failing to assure a safe level of hygiene by washing and bathing may increase the risk of accidental contact of contaminated matter to the mouth.
  • Exposure to livestock: Its risks are elevated when there are improper sewage systems of human and animal waste matter.
  • Presence in potentially infectious environments: This includes places where sanitary procedures are not attended to as they should be.
  • Eating raw or undercooked meat: Heat may effectively kill tapeworm eggs and larvae in contaminated pork or beef.



The outcomes of tapeworm infection can vary according to the type of the tapeworm.



Intestinal tapeworm infections may go unnoticed or they can show mild complications in most cases. However, excess growth of the tapeworm may cause bile duct, appendix or pancreatic duct blockage, which is problematic for those organs.



This type of infection is much more likely to cause complications, such as:


Impairment of the brain and the central nervous system:


This condition is more dangerous in the case of a pork tapeworm infection and it’s called neurocysticercosis. It can result in headaches, weakened vision, along with seizures, meningitis, hydrocephalus or dementia. Some extreme case may even cause death.


Disruption of organ function:

These complications arise from the formation of cysts by the migrated larvae, which can grow in size to the point of disrupting organ function or rupture. This increase in size applies pressure on the surrounding blood vessels, denying normal circulation of the blood, even causing them to rupture in some cases. Extreme cases may call for surgery and/or organ transplantation to replace dysfunctional organs.


In intestinal tapeworm infection, the patient may not even need treatment, because the tapeworm exits the body by itself. Some people may not even know that they have an infection due to the lack of symptoms. In case of diagnosis, medication is highly recommended to exterminate the tapeworm.



This involves intoxicating the adult tapeworm by oral medications. Most common drugs are praziquantel and sometimes albendazole, along with an antimicrobial drug like nitazoxanide. The type of the medication should be in accordance with the type of tapeworm causing the infection and its location. Care must be taken to avoid re-infection since drugs are only effective on adult tapeworms, not the eggs. Hence, personal hygiene is a key element in the prevention procedure. After taking the prescribed dose of the medication, stool monitoring is carried out once per one or three months according to the tapeworm species, to ensure the absence of tapeworm eggs larvae or proglottids in it. The medication treatment rate of success is often high.



The method of treatment in the case of an invasive tapeworm depends highly on the infection site and its effects.


Anthelmintic drugs:

Albendazole is used to reduce cysts’ volume and needs frequent monitoring by a physician via ultrasound or X-ray to keep track of the overall progress.



These are administered when the cysts are causing inflammation of organs and tissues.


Anti-epileptic therapy:

These are administered when the infection is causing seizures.


Shunt placement:

In this method, a tube or shunt is surgically placed in the head of the patient to get rid of the extra brain fluid (hydrocephalus), caused by some invasive infections.



According to the symptoms and location, physicians tend to remove the cysts surgically when organ dysfunction is eminent as is the case in the lungs, liver and eyes.


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