Taeniasis is an infection caused by the tapeworm, which is a type of parasite. Parasites are small organisms that attach themselves to other living things in order to survive. The living things the parasites attach to are called hosts.
Parasites can be found in contaminated food and water. If you consume contaminated food or drinks, you may contract a parasite that can live and sometimes grow and reproduce inside of your body.
Taeniasis is an intestinal tapeworm infection caused by eating contaminated beef or pork. Taeniasis is also known by the following names:
- Taenia saginata
- Taenia solium
- pork tapeworm
- beef tapeworm
Most people that have taeniasis don’t have any symptoms. If signs and symptoms are present they may include:
- unexplained weight loss
- blockage of the intestine
- digestive problems
Some people with taeniasis may also experience irritation in the perianal area, which is the area around the anus. Worm segments or eggs being expelled in the stool cause this irritation.
People often become aware that they have a tapeworm when they see worm segments or eggs in their stool. Infections can take between eight and 14 weeks to develop.
You can develop taeniasis by eating raw or undercooked beef or pork. Contaminated food can contain tapeworm eggs, or larvae, that grow in your intestines when eaten. Fully cooking beef or pork will destroy the larvae so that they cannot live in your body.
The tapeworm can grow up to 12 feet in length. It can live in the intestines for years without being discovered. Tapeworms have segments along their bodies. Each of these segments can produce eggs. As the tapeworm matures, these eggs will be passed out of the body in the stool.
Poor hygiene can also cause the spread of teniasis. Once tapeworm larvae are in human stool, they can be spread through contact with the stool. You should wash your hands properly to help prevent the spread of the infection.
Taeniasis is more common in countries where sanitation and hand hygiene are often substandard. Although the infection isn’t commonly found in the United States, people who travel to low- and lower-middle-income countries are at risk for contracting the disease
Taeniasis is more likely to develop in people who have weakened immune systems and aren’t able to fight off infections. Your immune system can weaken due to:
- an organ transplant
See your doctor if you see worm segments or eggs in your stool. Your doctor will ask you about your health history and recent travel outside of the United States. Doctors will often be able to make a diagnosis of taeniasis based on the symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may order blood tests including a complete blood count. They may also order a stool exam to see if eggs or worm segments are present.
Taeniasis is typically treated by medications prescribed by your doctor. Medications for the treatment of taeniasis include praziquantel and albendazole.
Both drugs are antihelmintics, which means they kill parasitic worms and their eggs. In most cases, these medications are provided in a single dose. But these medications can take a few weeks to fully clear an infection. The tapeworm will be excreted as waste. Common side effects associated with these medications include dizziness and upset stomach.
Most cases of this infection go away with treatment. Medications prescribed for this condition are typically effective and will cure the infection.
In some cases, serious complications from the infection can occur. Tapeworms may block your intestines. This may require surgery to correct. In some cases, the tapeworm may travel to other parts of your body such as the heart, eye, or brain. This condition is called cysticercosis. It can cause other health problems like seizures or infections in the nervous system.
The most effective way to prevent taeniasis is to cook food thoroughly. This means cooking meat to a temperature above 140°F for five minutes or more. Measure the meat temperature with a cooking thermometer. After cooking meat, allow it to stand for three minutes before cutting it. This can help destroy any parasites that may be in the meat.
In the United States, laws requiring the inspection of animals and meat help reduce the chance that tapeworms will be spread.
Proper hand hygiene is also important for preventing the spread of this disease. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom and teach your children to do the same. Drink bottled water if you live in or travel to an area where water must be treated.