The most common tapeworm infestations in people are caused by Taenia solium (pork tapeworm), Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm), Hymenolepis nana (dwarf tapeworm), and Diphyllobothrium latum (broad fish tapeworm). The adult forms of these tapeworms live in humans, while the immature forms live in other animals.
Tapeworms are acquired by eating uncooked or undercooked food that contains the immature form of the worm. Most people who have tapeworms never show any symptoms. However, when tapeworms cause problems, symptoms might include nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, and general weakness. The fish tapeworm can cause vitamin B12 deficiency.
People are usually not hosts for the immature (larval) forms of tapeworms, but a complication called cysticercosis occurs when people ingest the eggs of the pork tapeworm, usually through contact with someone who harbors the adult. Cysticercosis can affect the brain and cause seizures. Likewise, echinococcosis (which causes a cyst in the liver and/or lung) occurs when a person ingests the eggs of a tapeworm that generally lives in the intestines of dogs.
Tapeworms are easily treated with medication.
Who's at Risk for Tapeworms?
Tapeworms can infect anyone who eats contaminated food.
Defensive Measures Against Tapeworms
Like most foodborne infections, tapeworms can be avoided through good common sense, such as not eating raw or undercooked beef or pork and practicing good kitchen hygiene. If you're a sushi-eater, the good news is that most fish used in restaurants do not harbor the infectious form of the fish tapeworm.
While most people fully recover from a trichinosis infection, the symptoms are quite uncomfortable and can last for months. Go to the next page to learn how to avoid trichinosis.
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