Tapeworms in Humans: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Ebony Potts

Ebony has taught middle and high school physical science, life science & biology. She's also been an assistant principal and has a doctorate in educational administration.

Have you ever heard of a tapeworm? In this lesson, you will learn about tapeworms and how they can infect humans. You will also learn how a tapeworm infection is treated and how it can be prevented.

Rare, Medium or Well Done?

Have you ever been to a really good steakhouse restaurant with a group of friends? If you have, then you know that there are lots of ways people like their steaks cooked. Some like their steaks rare, which is barely cooked. Some people like their steaks well done. Other people like their steaks and other meats prepared somewhere in the middle of rare and well done.

If you've ever been to a supermarket in the United States and purchased a package of meat, you will notice that the meat has a label encouraging you to cook the meat until it is well done. Why is such a label placed on a package of meat? Cooking your meat until it is well done can keep you from getting a foodborne illness. One particular illness that cooking your meat to the right temperature can prevent is a tapeworm infection.

What is a Tapeworm

Tapeworm
tapeworm

Tapeworms are members of a class of invertebrates known as Cestoda. These parasitic flatworms are present all over the world and can range in size from around .04 inches to more than 50 feet long. Parasites are organisms that live off of a host (another organism) to the detriment of the host. As intestinal parasites, tapeworms infect invertebrates and vertebrates alike. They commonly infect fish, dogs, cats, cows, pigs and humans.

Tapeworms are bilaterally symmetrical (the right and left of the worm are similar). The head of the worm is called a scolex, which has has suckers and often hooks used to attach to the host. The body of the tapeworm is covered by a tough cuticle through which it absorbs its food. Tapeworms have the reproductive organs of both the female and the male and can self-fertilize.

Infection

The most common way that people become infected by tapeworms is by eating undercooked meat. After tapeworm eggs are fertilized, the embryos leave the host in their feces. If the embryos are eaten by a mammal, the larva will end up in the digestive tract. Once in the intestines, the larva bores through the intestinal wall into a blood vessel and makes its way to the muscle tissue. This is how eating undercooked meat can cause infection. If an organism eats the undercooked flesh of an animal that contains tapeworm larvae, the larvae will find the host's intestines, attach to the intestinal wall, and develop into adults.

Symptoms

Sometimes, a person infected by a tapeworm may not have any symptoms. Those who show symptoms of tapeworm infection report experiencing nausea, weight loss, fatigue, hunger or loss of appetite, weakness, diarrhea, and nutritional deficiencies.

In rare cases, tapeworms can lead to serious health issues, including a blockage in the intestine. Pork tapeworm eggs can migrate to other parts of the body and damage the eyes, liver, brain and heart.

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