As the name implies, tape worms are flat worms like a tape. The adult worms live as parasites in the digestive tract of humans and some animals like pigs, cows, fish, dogs etc. Infection can spread from animals to humans and vice-versa.
Since tapeworms don’t have digestive tract, they need food that is already digested by the host animal or human. They absorb nutrients and reproduce inside the host.
All tapeworms are not the same - different species of tapeworms infect different animals. The type of infection and symptoms also differ. Pork tapeworm is more dangerous than beef tapeworm.
You can get tape worm infection in two ways:
- By ingesting tapeworm eggs. Once inside the body, the eggs hatch, become larvae and migrate to the intestines, some even to other parts of the body and form larval cysts in the muscular tissue of the organs. Symptoms are more severe.
- By ingesting tapeworm larvae. The larvae settle in the intestines to become adult tapeworms and attach to the intestinal walls. Adult worms can be as long as 50 feet or even more and can survive up to 20 years inside the host.
Ingestion of tapeworm eggs or larvae occurs through
- Consumption of uncooked or under cooked food, particularly meat of animals having larvae cysts.
- Consumption of food prepared in unhygienic conditions.
- Consumption of water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae.
- Handling any soil contaminated with animal or human feces.
- Some fleas pick eggs from soil and contaminate food or water.
For example, if an infected pig passes tapeworm segments through its feces, they get into the soil. Each of the segments contains thousands of eggs that contaminate the soil. From there, the contamination spreads to food and water. If a person handles the soil, the eggs get on to his hands.
Some tape worms attach to intestinal walls and some may exit through stool. The most common tapeworm, called the dwarf tapeworm, can complete its full life cycle from egg to adult in a single host. This type of worm can spread between humans.
Reports say that tapeworm infection in the USA is on the rise because of raw fish consumption.
The symptoms depend on the type of tapeworm infection, its severity and the part that got affected.
Even though people with tape worms inside their intestines show no symptoms, some people experience
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Nausea, vomiting
- Weight loss
- Itching in the anus
- Intestinal inflammation
- Disturbed or loss of sleep
- They become anemic
Identifying tapeworm infection
The infected person may pass tapeworm eggs or larvae in stool. The stool may also have tapeworm segments that look like white rice. Beef or pork tapeworm segments twist and move like a worm. The segments contain thousands of eggs.
If you suspect tapeworm infection, see the doctor. A doctor can notice things better than you. Your stool may need examination in the laboratory. The doctor may also look for eggs or larvae in the anus area.
Treatment for adult tapeworm, which stays only in the intestine, is simpler than treating for larvae, as larvae can migrate into other parts of the body.
The best way to treat for tape worm is to force them through stool by using a laxative.
Treatment can consist of single dose of drugs like praziquantel to be repeated later. The scolex (neck and head) of the tapeworm should get detached from the intestine and come out in the stool. If the scolex remains, it can grow again.
These medicines don’t destroy the eggs. Re-infection is possible if proper personal hygiene is not maintained.
Anti-inflammatory drugs are required if there is intestinal inflammation.
In case the patient has cysts in vital organs like liver, lungs etc, surgery may be required.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly in clean water.
- Do not consume raw or undercooked meat.
- Consume food prepared in good hygienic conditions.
- Observe personal hygiene. When you move with pets or other animals, wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant.
- Wash your hands and the relevant parts of your body thoroughly after passing stool.
- Dispose human and animal feces properly and clean the area.
- Let your pets be treated for tape worms.
- Take care when you handle raw meat.
- Take extra care while traveling or living in the regions of unsatisfactory sanitary conditions.
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