Tapeworm infestation occurs when a person consumes food, especially undercooked fish or meat, or water contaminated with the worm’s eggs or larvae. There are three species of tapeworms – Pork tapeworm, Beef tapeworm, and Fish tapeworm. Once the larvae enter the intestine they develop into adult worms and may grow as long as 20-30 ft. The adult worm may live in a host for as long as twenty years. In most of the case, this worm causes intestinal infections, however, when the larvae settle in places other than intestine, it can cause other illnesses as well.
When one accidentally comes in contact with faeces contaminated with the larvae of the worm, and then accidentally touches the mouth with the same hand, he/she becomes prone to the infection. The larvae grow in the muscle tissues of the infected animal. Therefore, if a person eats uncooked or raw meat of such infected animals, he/she ingests the larvae that develop into adult worms in the person’s intestine. The tapeworm infection is very common in regions like Eastern Europe, Japan, and Scandinavia.
In many of the cases, the infected person may show no symptoms of the infestation. However, mild abdominal pain, loose stools, and increase in appetite (in case of beef and pork tapeworm infestation) are the early signs of the infection. Some individuals may also show symptoms like nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, insomnia, dizziness and fits. In beef tapeworm infestation, one may feel segments of the worm wriggling out of one’s anus. In rare cases, fish tapeworms may cause blood disorder. Epilepsy may result if larvae of pork tapeworm reach the brain, and if the worms reach the eyes, one may lose his/her eyesight.
A sample of faeces is taken for examination to verify whether worm segments or eggs are present in it or not. If the diagnosis is positive, the patient may be prescribed anthelmintic drugs so that the worms are killed. These medicines also make the worm pass out of the intestine through stools. It is important to get rid of the worm’s neck and head, otherwise it can grow again. Therefore, for the treatment to be effective, it is important that the neck and the head come out of the intestine in the stools. Once the treatment is started samples of faeces are taken quite frequently so that effectiveness of the treatment can be determined.
Human and animal waste should be disposed of properly so that it does not contaminate the water where fish farming is practised. Half cooked meat raises the risk of this disease. Therefore, pork, fish, and beef should be cooked properly, as heat kills the larvae or the eggs that may be present in them. Storing fish and meat at a low temperature of -10C also kills the eggs and larvae in them, however, they still need to be fully cooked if one wants to eat them. Apart from these preventive measures one must maintain personal health and hygiene. Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially before cooking a meal and eating, and after using the toilet, lowers the chances of this disease.