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Taeniasis

Definition

Taeniasis is a tapeworm infection.

Alternative Names

Teniasis; Pork tapeworm; Beef tapeworm; Tapeworm; Taenia saginata; Taenia solium

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Tapeworm infection is caused by eating the raw or undercooked meat of infected animals. Beef generally carry Taenia saginata (T. saginata ). Pigs carry Taenia solium (T. solium). In the human intestine, the young form of the tapeworm from the infected meat (larva) develops into the adult tapeworm -- which can grow to longer than 12 feet and can live for years.

Tapeworms have many segments. Each segment is able to produce eggs. Eggs are spread individually or in groups, and can pass out with the stool or through the anus.

Adults and children with pork tapeworm can infect themselves if they have poor hygiene. They can ingest eggs from tapeworm they pick up on their hands while wiping or scratching their anus or the surrounding skin.

Those who are infected can expose other people to T. solium eggs, usually through food handling.

Symptoms

Tapeworm infection usually does not cause any symptoms. People often realize they are infected when they pass segments of the worm in their stool, especially if the segments are moving.

Signs and tests

  • Stool exam for eggs of T. solium or T. saginata, or bodies of the parasite
  • CBC, including differential count

Treatment

Tapeworms are treated with medications taken by mouth, usually in a single dose. The drug of choice for tapeworm infections is niclosamide. Praziquantel and albendazole can also be used.

Expectations (prognosis)

With treatment, the tapeworm infection goes away.

Complications

Rarely, worms can cause a blockage in the intestine.

If pork tapeworm larvae move out of the intestine, they can cause local growths and damage tissues such as the brain, eye, or heart. This condition is called cysticercosis. Infection of the brain can cause seizures and other nervous system problems.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you pass something in your stool that looks like a white worm.

Prevention

In the U.S., laws on feeding practices and the inspection of domestic food animals have largely eliminated tapeworms.

Avoiding raw meat and cooking meat well enough (to greater than 140 degrees F for 5 minutes) will prevent tapeworm infection. Freezing meats to -4 degrees F for 24 hours also kills tapeworm eggs. Good hygiene and hand washing after using the toilet will prevent self-infection in a person who is already infected with tapeworms.

References

King CH. Cestode infections. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 375.


Review Date: 8/28/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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