A tapeworm, medically known as cestode, is a flat segmented and ribbon-like parasite that can live inside the intestines of a person. A person can get tapeworms by touching contaminated faeces and bringing the contaminated hand near the mouth. The main source of tapeworm, however, is eating undercooked meat of animals infected with tapeworms or drinking contaminated water.
Tapeworms usually cause few symptoms in humans and can be easily treated, however in rare cases, tapeworms can cause serious problems which may even pose risk for life. Considering the possible risk, it is important to understand the causes and recognize the symptoms of tapeworms for early and effective treatment.
The tapeworm infection starts with a person ingesting the eggs or larvae of tapeworms, usually through undercooked infected meat or contaminated water. Tapeworms are of six types and are usually specific to the animal they come from such as taenia saginata comes from beef, diphyllobothrium latum comes from fish.
The eggs of tapeworm are usually ingested when someone drinks water or eats food which has been contaminated with feces from an infected animal or person. The feces from people or animals infected with tapeworms may contain microscopic tapeworm eggs. This feces may even contaminate the soils which may pass the eggs to a food or water source. Once inside the intestines, the tapeworm eggs develop into larvae and further develop into adult tapeworms.
The larvae may also migrate out of the intestines, forming cysts in other tissues such as lungs or liver. Adult tapeworms may grow up to 50 feet long and can survive for even 20 years inside the host. While some tapeworms may exit the body through stool, others may attach to the walls of the intestines causing irritation or even inflammation.
Tapeworm infection usually doesn't cause symptoms and may go undetected for long. However, symptoms that may be experienced include include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and weakness, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and weight loss.
Although rare, tapeworms can block the intestine causing serious complications. Some tapeworms can even migrate to other parts of the body and can damage to the liver, eyes, heart, and brain.
The diagnosis and treatment of tapeworm depends on the type of the tapeworm a person is infected with. If the tapeworms are not detected in the stool test, the doctor may order a blood test to check for antibodies produced to fight tapeworm infection or may even order an imaging test in rare cases.
Once the type of the tapeworm is identified through the tests, the doctor may proceed for the appropriate treatment. The most common treatment for tapeworm infection involves oral medications that are toxic to the adult tapeworm. The oral medication targets the adult tapeworm, so it's important to avoid re-infecting with tapeworms during treatment.
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