Tapeworms are large, flat parasitic worms that live in the intestinal tracts of some animals. They are passed to humans who consume foods or water contaminated with tapeworm larvae.
Six types of tapeworms are known to infect humans, usually identified by their source of infestation: beef, pork, fish, dog, rodent, and dwarf (because it is small).
Tapeworms enter the human body with contaminated food or water and remain in the intestines.
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Tapeworm infection in people usually results from eating undercooked foods from infected animals. Pigs or cattle, for example, become infected when grazing in pastures or drinking contaminated water. People can also become infected by eating contaminated fish that is raw or undercooked.
The parasites mature in the animal’s intestines to pea-shaped larvae. They spread to the animal's blood and muscles. They are then transmitted to people who eat the contaminated food. This method is more common with beef or fish.
Tapeworms can also be passed by hand-to-mouth contact if you touch a surface contaminated with tapeworm eggs and then touch your mouth. This method is more common with pork.
Factors that may increase the chances of a tapeworm:
Tapeworms may be seen in vomit or stool. In some cases, tapeworm infection may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be able to self-diagnose tapeworm infection by checking your stool for signs of tapeworms.
Your bodily fluids and waste may be tested. This can be done with:
Images of your brain may be taken if there is concern that the larva of the pork tapeworm have migrated there. This can be done with:
Tapeworm infection is treated with oral medication. The medications work by dissolving or attacking the adult tapeworm. The medications may not target eggs.
Surgery may occasionally be needed for pork tapeworm larvae in the brain
Proper hygiene is essential to avoid re-infection. Always wash your hands before eating or after going to the bathroom.
Your doctor will check stool samples at 1 and 3 months after you've finished taking your medication.
To help reduce the chances of a tapeworm infection:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The World Health Organization
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Public Health Agency of Canada
Beef tapeworm. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114440/Beef-tapeworm. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler's Health—Yellow Book: Taeniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/taeniasis. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Pork tapeworm and cysticercosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115222/Pork-tapeworm-and-cysticercosis. Updated October 9, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.
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5/6/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115222/Pork-tapeworm-and-cysticercosis: Quet F, Guerchet M, Pion SD, Ngoungou EB, Nicoletti A, Preux PM. Meta-analysis of the association between cysticercosis and epilepsy in Africa. Epilepsia. 2010;51(5):830-837.
Last reviewed April 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD Last Updated: 5/11/2013