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Do I have a tapeworm?

tapeworm infection
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There are times when I feel like all I am writing about is parasitic worms. Today, I find myself talking about one that we have somehow not addressed yet: the tapeworm.

Contrary to Mango Worm and Guinea Worm, most people have at least heard of tapeworms. They’ve heard of them, but they don’t really know how and where you can contract them, nor what you can do for treatment. We’ll cover prevention, signs and symptoms, and treatment in this post.

Similar to roundworm infection, tapeworm infection involves ingesting the eggs of the worm. Where did the eggs come from? Like so many of our parasitic friends, the eggs were pooped out by another organism that was already infected with a tapeworm.

This could be a pig. It could be a cow. It could be an infected human who didn’t wash their hands and then went on to prepare your food (nice thought, right?). You consume a bit of feces, which is already no fun, and there happens to be some tapeworm eggs in there.

Another possible way to get yourself a tapeworm is to eat undercooked contaminated meat. This is particularly true of beef and pork products, but it can also be true of fish.

Once you’ve swallowed the tapeworm eggs, they hatch and the larvae eventually turn into a kind of flat worm. Here’s the scary part: adult tapeworms can grow to be over 50 feet long, and they can live for 30 years. Yes, you heard right. So, how do you know if you have a tapeworm?

Signs and symptoms of tapeworm infection

Well, here’s another scary little bit of information: many tapeworm infections produce absolutely no symptoms. In some cases, a patient may be anemic, or may have some abdominal discomfort. The obvious question, then, is how on earth do you know if you have a tapeworm or not?

Unfortunately, the most effective diagnosis typically comes from seeing segments of the worms (often still moving) in the toilet after you have done your business. Now, if you have any suspicion that you have a tapeworm, you can go to a doctor and perform a stool sample.

A blood test may also be performed in order to check for signs of antibodies, which would indicate that your body is fighting some kind of infection.

Can a tapeworm kill you?

Tapeworms rarely cause serious complications. After all, they need you to stay alive as their host. In rare cases, tapeworms can cause intestinal blockage, in which case you would have a serious, possibly life threatening problem.

There is one other possible way for a tapeworm to kill you: neurocysticercosis. This is a condition whereby tapeworm larvae make it into your brain. First you will notice the headaches, then the seizures. If you are not properly diagnosed and treated, this condition could be fatal. However, it should be noted that some people have survived with tapeworms in their brains for multiple years (just see this story).

Finally, tapeworms rob you of nutrients. If your immune system is weak for any reason, or if you suffer from certain kinds of chronic illness, a tapeworm could drastically reduce your chances of survival.

Treatment

Thankfully, tapeworm can be effectively wiped out by drugs like praziquantel. One dose is typically sufficient. Niclosamide is another drug that can be prescribed in case praziquantel is inffective. In cases of severe infestation, you may need multiple doses.

Prevention

Preventing a tapeworm infection is straightforward. You just need to do two things:

  1. Don’t eat undercooked meat of any kind.
  2. Wash your hands when you are preparing food, and only eat food from trusted sources, especially if you are in a developing world country.

For some terrifying footage of a tapeworm inside of someone’s intestines, check out this video from the BBC.

Anything you would like to share on tapeworms? Ever have one? Let us know in the comments below.

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