Cysticercosis (Pork Tapeworm Infection)

  • Medical Author:
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What causes cysticercosis?

Cysticercosis is caused by the dissemination in humans of the larval form of the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium, that form cysts in various organs. When the eggs of Taenia solium are ingested by humans, the tapeworm eggs hatch and the embryos penetrate the intestinal wall and reach the bloodstream. The formation of cysts in different body tissues leads to the development of symptoms, which will vary depending on the location and number of cysts.

How is cysticercosis transmitted?

Humans are the host for Taenia solium, and they may carry the tapeworm in their intestine (taeniasis), often without symptoms. The tapeworm eggs are periodically shed in the feces by the human reservoir, and typically pigs ingest the eggs in contaminated food or water. The pigs subsequently become infected and develop cysticerci in their body tissue. When humans eat infected raw or undercooked pork, the life cycle of the tapeworm is complete and the cycle continues.

Human cysticercosis, however, develops after humans ingest Taenia solium eggs. The eggs are typically spread via food, water, or surfaces contaminated with infected feces. Oftentimes, the eggs may be spread from the hands of infected food handlers who do not clean their hands or from foods fertilized/irrigated with water containing infected human feces. Though the source of this fecal-oral transmission often occurs from other infected individuals, it is also possible for individuals who carry the tapeworm to autoinfect themselves.

What are cysticercosis symptoms and signs?

The symptoms of cysticercosis may develop from several months to several years after the initial infection (incubation period). The symptoms will depend on the location and the number of cysticerci, though many individuals with cysticercosis will never develop any symptoms at all. The majority of patients with cysticercosis who present to a health-care professional have central nervous system involvement (neurocysticercosis or NCC). Symptoms of neurocysticercosis may include the following:

Involvement of other body tissues may cause skeletal muscle swelling, subcutaneous cysts, and vision changes from cysts infecting the eyes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/10/2015

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