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Illustration of a tapeworm. Getty images.

Tapeworm infection. You should probably cook your meat well.

Tapeworms are parasites that reside in animals that provide meat for human consumption. They include fish, cattle, sheep, and pigs. Several tapeworms exist; however, only three cause human disease (tapeworm infection): Taenia solium (pork tapeworm), T. saginata (beef tapeworm), and Diphyllobothrium (fish tapeworm).

Tapeworms infect people when they consume eggs or larvae in contaminated food or water. It is especially true if such people live in areas with poor sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water. Through improper disposal of human excreta, person-to-person transmission is possible.

When you ingest the eggs, they hatch into larvae within the intestines. You can then shed them out through stool and spread to other people or animals. The larvae may move out of the intestines. And migrate to other body parts like muscles, lungs, and brain, where they form cysts. Brain cysts cause neurocysticercosis.

Tapeworm infection. You should probably cook your meat well.
Illustration of a tapeworm in a human intestine. Tapeworms (Taenia sp.) are parasites that inhabit the human gut. They anchor themselves to the inside of the intestine and absorb nutrients through their body wall. Tapeworms may grow to several metres in length, but infestation does not necessarily cause symptoms.

In the intestines, they extract nutrients like iron and vitamin B12: they grow to enormous lengths.

It is noteworthy that many people with tapeworm infection show no symptoms. They may suddenly see worm segments as they pass stool especially, at night or in the morning. When symptoms appear, they include nausea, epigastric pain, unexplained weight loss, diarrhoea, loss of appetite (it may increase in a few cases), malaise, and anaemia. Cysts in the central nervous system can manifest as seizures, hydrocephalus, and epilepsy.

Giardiasis. What to do if you have it?

We diagnose tapeworm infection by examining a stool sample or body fluids like cerebral spinal fluid and blood.

Most antiparasitic drugs are effective against tapeworm infection. We commonly use albendazole and praziquantel. Both drugs cross the blood-brain barrier. Neurocysticercosis may require surgery, antiepileptic drugs, in addition to antiparasitic medications to clear the parasites.

We recommend that you have your stool checked after 3 to 6 weeks of treatment to ensure that you are free of any residual parasites.

It’s prudent that you take the medicines as prescribed and go for a follow-up. Once you or the child has tapeworms, check all the other family members, or treat them empirically. Only buy meat that has been thoroughly inspected and cook it well. Only eat well-cleaned fruits. Wash your hands diligently and maintain proper sanitation.


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MBChB (MUK), Graduate Fellow, Department of Physiology, Makerere University Founder and Content Creator Peer reviewer, Associate Editor

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