What is taeniasis?

Taeniasis is an infection caused by the tapeworm, 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 your body.

Taeniasis is an intestinal tapeworm infection caused by eating contaminated beef or pork. It’s also known by the following names:

  • Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm)
  • Taenia solium (pork tapeworm)

Most people who have taeniasis don’t have any symptoms. If signs and symptoms are present, they may include:

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 8 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 can’t 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 taeniasis. 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 areas where raw beef or pork is consumed and where sanitation is poor. These areas may include:

  • Eastern Europe and Russia
  • East Africa
  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • Latin America
  • parts of Asia, including China, Indonesia, and South Korea

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are probably fewer than 1,000 new cases in the United States each year. However, people who travel to areas where taeniasis is more common are at risk of 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:

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 (CBC). They may also order a stool exam to see if eggs or worm segments are present.

Taeniasis is typically treated with medications prescribed by your doctor. Medications for the treatment of taeniasis include praziquantel (Biltricide) and albendazole (Albenza).

Both drugs are antihelmintics, which means that they kill parasitic worms and their eggs. In most cases, these medications are provided in a single dose. They 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 rare cases, serious complications from the infection can occur. Tapeworms may block your intestines. This may require surgery to correct.

In other cases, a pork tapeworm may travel to other parts of your body such as the heart, eye, or brain. This condition is called cysticercosis. Cysticercosis can cause other health problems such as 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 (60°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. Learn more about meat safety.

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.

Also, drink bottled water if you live in or travel to an area where water must be treated.