- Taeniasis vs. Cysticerosis
- Taeniasis Symptoms
- Cysticerosis Symptoms
- How to Get Rid of Tapeworms
- Pet Tapeworms
- Do Not Worry
Taeniasis vs. cysticercosis
Tapeworms sound like monsters from a science fiction movie. They’re parasitic worms that find their way into your body and live in your digestive system — sometimes without you knowing.
This raises the question, “How do you get rid of tapeworms?”
There are two main types of tapeworm infections: taeniasis and cysticercosis.
Taeniasis. This tapeworm infection is what comes to mind when people usually think of tapeworms. Taeniasis happens when a worm takes up residence in your digestive tract.
This infection is caused by ingesting a tapeworm. Tapeworms can contaminate beef or pork in areas with poor sanitation.
There’s also a species of tapeworm that comes from fish.
You can get a tapeworm by eating raw or undercooked contaminated meat. You can’t give someone else tapeworms, but you might accidentally give them tapeworm eggs, which could cause them to develop cysticercosis.
Cysticercosis. This infection is caused by tapeworm larvae. The larvae migrate to the brain and muscle tissue, where they form cysts and live.
Some larvae settle in your gut. They’ll eventually develop into tapeworms and give you taeniasis.
They can also move to other places, like your muscles, eyes, and brain. If cysts develop in your brain, they can lead to a serious condition called neurocysticercosis.
Unlike taeniasis, cysticercosis is spread through contaminated feces. When people eat contaminated food or touch their mouths after touching something contaminated, they can swallow tapeworm eggs.
People can also autoinfect or infect others if they have tapeworms. People in the same household as someone with a tapeworm are at a higher risk for getting an infection.
Tapeworm eggs can end up in their feces, they may not wash their hands, and they may accidentally swallow the eggs.
Symptoms of taeniasis
Taeniasis infections typically don’t cause symptoms. This is how tapeworms can live for so long and grow so big in your gut.
If you do have symptoms, they’re usually mild and can be similar to those of other common conditions. You won’t know you have a tapeworm until you find segments of its body (proglottids) in your bowel movements.
Symptoms may not appear for many months or years. Symptoms of a tapeworm include:
With no symptoms and easy treatment, taeniasis doesn’t sound so bad. But tapeworms aren’t like the worms on the sidewalk after a heavy rainstorm.
For example, the beef tapeworm species is called Taenia saginata. The length of an adult beef tapeworm is between 13 and 39 feet. Some can even grow up to 80 feet in your intestinal tract.
Tapeworms can also live for several years. Some have survived up to 30 years inside a host attached to the intestinal walls.
Symptoms of cysticercosis
Cysticercosis can happen in different parts of the body. Each location has its own set of symptoms when cysts develop. Most symptoms are due to swelling caused by a cyst.
Muscles. Muscular cysts typically don’t have symptoms. The only symptoms of muscular tapeworm cysts are lumps under the skin and tenderness around the area.
Eyes. Larvae rarely make it to your eyes. If they do, eye cysts can cause blurry or obstructed vision and damage to the retina in severe cases.
Brain and spinal cord. Cysts in the brain or spinal cord are called neurocysticercosis. These cysts usually need surgical treatment before they cause damage to your brain.
Symptoms of neurocysticercosis include:
Extreme cases of neurocysticercosis can even lead to death.
Diagnosing tapeworm infections
It’s fairly simple to diagnose taeniasis. Your doctor will check at least three different stool samples for proglottids or tapeworm eggs.
If your doctor suspects you have cysticercosis, they’ll ask you questions about where you’ve traveled and what you’ve eaten to determine if you’ve come in contact with tapeworm eggs.
Your doctor will use blood tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a computed tomography (CT) scan to diagnose cysticercosis. Blood tests aren’t always accurate, but the scans will reveal any cysts.
If you’re diagnosed with cysticercosis, you’ll also be checked for taeniasis. Cysts can develop into adult tapeworms, especially cysts in your gut.
How do you get rid of tapeworms?
Taeniasis treatment. A tapeworm infection needs treatment once it’s diagnosed. In some cases, the tapeworm will pass out of the body on its own.
Most tapeworm infections are treated with oral medications. The prescribed medication depends on the type of tapeworm, but the most common drugs are albendazole and nitazoxanide.
These medications are antiparasitic. The prescription will kill the tapeworm and allow you to get it out of your body.
Your doctor will likely ask for stool samples throughout and after your treatment. They’ll confirm if the tapeworm and eggs have left your system.
Cysticercosis treatment. Treating tapeworm cysts can be tricky. Certain symptoms need to be managed while treating the tapeworm cysts.
Antiparasitic medications like albendazole are used to shrink the cysts, but the tapeworm’s death can often lead to more swelling and inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medications are used with antiparasitic drugs to manage the swelling.
Tapeworm cysts in the brain can also cause seizures. Anti-epileptic medications may be prescribed to manage those symptoms during treatment.
Brain cysts can cause excess fluid to build up in your brain. This is called hydrocephalus. Your doctor may recommend a shunt, which is a tube that drains the extra fluid.
Surgery is a treatment option to remove the cyst in some severe cases. Your doctor may suggest surgery if:
- The cyst threatens organ function
- The infection doesn’t respond to medications
- You have brain swelling
Getting a tapeworm is more common in countries with a dense population, poor sanitation, and raw meat in their cuisine. Tapeworm infections tend to be rare in developed communities.
Taeniasis prevention. The main way to prevent taeniasis is to make sure the meat you eat is cooked to a safe temperature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you cook whole cuts of beef and pork to 145°F and ground meat to 160°F.
Cysticercosis prevention. Wash your hands before handling food. Additionally, make sure you watch what you eat and drink when traveling to an underdeveloped community.
Your pets can also get tapeworms. Your pet can get a tapeworm by eating a flea with the flea tapeworm, but they can’t pass the tapeworm to you unless you happen to eat a flea with a tapeworm.
In many developed communities, tapeworms aren’t a problem and are easily treatable. Practice food safety and wash your hands to avoid a run-in with tapeworm infections.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cysticercosis FAQs," "Taeniasis FAQs."
Mayo Clinic: "Tapeworm infection."
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