DefinitionTapeworms 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 eggs or larvae.Six types of tapeworms are known to infect humans, usually identified by their source of infestation: beef, pork, fish, dog, rodent, and dwarf, which is named because it is small.
|Tapeworms enter the human body with contaminated food or water and remain in the intestines.|
|Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.|
CausesTapeworm 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 contaminated surface and then touch your mouth. This method is more common with pork.
Risk FactorsThe following factors may increase your chance of tapeworm infection:
- Eating raw or undercooked pork, beef, or fish
- Poor hygiene—not washing your hands can increase the risk of transferring tapeworm parasites by hand-to-mouth contact
- Exposure to cattle or pigs, particularly in areas where human and animal feces are not properly disposed
- Travel to underdeveloped countries with poor sanitary conditions.
SymptomsTapeworms may be seen in vomit or stool. In some cases, tapeworm infection may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Hunger or loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Seizures in rare cases of pork tapeworm
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