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.

Quick GuideUncommon and Common Food-Poisoning Dangers in Pictures

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What causes cysticercosis?

Cysticercosis in humans is caused by the dissemination in humans of the larval form of the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium, which then 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.

What are risk factors for cysticercosis?

Risk factors associated with acquiring cysticercosis include living in areas where the parasite is endemic (most commonly in rural developing countries where pigs roam freely and come into contact with human feces), drinking water or eating food contaminated with tapeworm eggs, and living in a household where another family member has intestinal tapeworm infection (taeniasis). Individuals who have taeniasis and poor hygiene are also at increased risk of infecting themselves.

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 tapeworm 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 fruits and vegetables fertilized/irrigated with water containing infected human feces. Though the source of this fecal-oral transmission most often occurs from other infected individuals, it is also possible for individuals who carry the tapeworm to infect themselves.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/30/2016

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