Tapeworm Infection

What is a Tapeworm Infection?

A tapeworm infection, also known as taeniasis, is caused by a parasite that lives inside of a person’s body in their intestine. These worms are flat and characterized by their segmented body. These worms cause various symptoms and an infection can lead to an intestinal blockage if individuals do not receive treatment.

Other serious medical issues include heart, liver and brain complications. People usually get a tapeworm infection if they eat beef or pork that is not cooked to the correct temperature. Tapeworm eggs are passed along with bowel movements and individuals who do not properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom can contaminate food that others eat and transfer the infection to others.

What are the Symptoms of Tapeworm Infection?

Some people do not have any symptoms, but after having a bowel movement they may see tapeworm eggs or segments of worms in their stool. After becoming infected with tapeworms, it is usually around two to three months before the infection begins.

Tapeworm symptoms include hunger, losing weight, problems with the digestive system, vomiting and abdominal pain. Some individuals have an uncomfortable sensation around their anal area due to passing the tapeworms. These parasites can rob the body of nutrients and this causes individuals to lack important vitamins and minerals.

Tapeworm Infection Causes

Tapeworm infection occurs when the eggs or larvae of tapeworm are ingested. Tapeworm eggs are microscopic and are, therefore, impossible to be seen by the naked eye. People usually ingest them after coming into contact with feces from an animal or another human who has a tapeworm infection.

It’s possible to come into contact with tapeworm-infected feces in a number of ways. Often, it is from eating food or drinking water which is contaminated. For example, if you eat vegetables which have grown in your garden, and you have a dog with tapeworm which may have defecated in the soil, the vegetables could by contaminated with tapeworm eggs.

Tapeworm infection also commonly spreads through contaminated meat. Once tapeworm eggs reach the intestine, they hatch into larvae which can travel out of the intestine and into other tissues, such as the muscles. Animals which have ingested tapeworm eggs may therefore have tapeworm larvae in their meat. If this meat is undercooked or raw when consumed, the larvae will be ingested.

How is Tapeworm Infection Treated?

Before treatment begins, a physician will want to take a blood test and a stool sample to make the proper diagnosis. Individuals will be prescribed medications, such as albendazole and praziquantel, to rid the body of the parasites and the eggs.

The tapeworms will exit the body through bowel movements and it may be several weeks before the tapeworms are completely gone from a person’s body. If the tapeworms are not treated in a timely manner and the infection causes an intestinal blockage, it will be necessary for individuals to have surgery.

Tapeworm Infection Prevention

To reduce the risk of ingesting tapeworm eggs from soil or water, be sure to only consume tap water that has been treated correctly and is deemed safe to drink. If in doubt, choose bottled water. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly in safe water if eating them raw, and if dirt appears to be ingrained in the skin it is usually safer to peel them first.

Meat should be cooked at temperatures of at least 125F to kill off any tapeworms eggs or larvae and ensure it is safe to eat. It is also possible to kill eggs and larvae by freezing meat; meat should be frozen for at least 12 hours, and fish for at least 24 hours. Avoid eating raw or undercooked fish, pork or beef.

Finally, have your dog treated promptly if you notice tapeworms in their stools. Always wash hands thoroughly after coming into contact with their feces.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
March 31, 2019