Tapeworms are the most intriguing parasites found in human intestine. They are so called because their shape is similar to a flattened measure tape. Recent analysis suggests that this cetstodes (as they are called) are present in humans over 10000 years. They are called parasites because they cannot survive on their own.
Tapeworms vary in length from an inch to more than 30 feet. Once they attach themselves to the intestinal wall, they can survive for years without causing any obvious symptoms.
Primarily, the egg or larvae gets entry into the intestine of an animal while grazing in pastures or when they drink polluted and contaminated water. Eating incompletely cooked or raw meat of an infected animal such as pigs or cattle is generally the cause of tapeworm infection in humans.
Humans can also get infected with tapeworm eggs or larvae by drinking polluted water or eating food that is contaminated with animal excreta. The eggs can eventually hatch and thrive in the intestine.
The three types of tapeworms that commonly infect humans are Taenia solium, Taenia saginata, Heminolepis Nana. They are identified from the animal they come. Taenia solium is infection from pork, Taenia saginata is infection from beef, Hymenolepis Nana is infection due dwarf tapeworm.
What Causes Tapeworm Infection?
Human beings can get infected with tapeworm eggs or larva after consuming raw meat or raw fish or undercooked meat.
- Ingestion of eggs: the eggs can enter into the human intestine either by drinking contaminated water or food with tapeworm eggs. Generally the eggs are excreted in the animal feces and they can become a source of infection to humans. The contaminated soil, water or food which comes in contact with animal excreta.
- Eating pork, meat or fish: when the meat or fish having larva of tapeworm is undercooked or eaten raw, it can get attached and mature into an adult worm in the human intestine.
- Transmission due to unhygienic habits: this is the only cestode that does not need the intermediate host. This tapeworm goes through the whole developmental cycle in egg-larva- maturity in human. In temperate countries its incidence is higher in children.
- Insect transmission: fleas and beetles are often become the intermediate host as they come in contact with dropping of rats and other animals.
Following factors are responsible for tapeworm infection: Poor maintenance of personal hygiene or staying in places having poor sanitation. Eating raw food, or living in geographical areas where tapeworm infestation is high.
Symptoms Of Tapeworms In Humans
Symptoms of Taenia saginata: beef tapeworm.
- Pain in epigastric region.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Passage of segments is a distressing symptom caused due to proglottids migrqating from anus.
- Occasionally appendicitis can result from migrating proglottids.
Symptoms of Taenia solium: pork tapeworm.
- It is less symptomatic that beef tapeworm.
- Proglottids are experienced passively in anal passage.
- Hunger pains.
- Heavy larva infection can cause muscle pain, weakness and fever.
- Cyst formation of the migrating larva in brain resulting in cysticercosis, which gives rise to symptoms such as giddiness, seizures.
Symptoms of Hymenolepis Nana: Dwarf tapeworm.
They are less symptomatic. Heavy infestation can cause:
- Abdominal pain.
- Loss of appetite.
Symptoms of Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm)
Humans and fish eating animals such as cats and dogs harbor the infestation as definitive host.
- The infection usually remains silent over years.
- Abdominal discomfort.
- Weight loss.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Intestinal obstruction if there is massive infestation.
Treatment For Tapeworm Infection
Generally tapeworm infection is diagnosed with the help of medical history and stool examination. Stool examination may show eggs or larva of tapeworm. Sometimes the patient may not require to be treated as the tapeworm may exit from the body on its own.
However, when diagnosed with the infection, patients are generally given oral de -worm medication that can kill the tapeworms. Albendazole is one such medicine that is used frequently in modern medicine for treating tapeworm infestation. The other drug is Niclosamide. All these medicine are known to have side effects and therefore should be taken under medical supervision.
Replacement therapy with vitamin B12 with other hematinic may be necessary if there is anemia.
There are other natural herbal and homeopathic medicines that are also found effective in killing the worm. These include the herbs such as:
- Glycorrhiza glabara (licorise root).
In homeopathy Cina and Teucrium are mostly used for treating the condition.
However, it is always said that prevention is better than cure.
- Infestation of tapeworm can be prevented completely if you follow good personal hygiene.
- Eat well cooked food, avoid eating raw food, wash your hands with soap and water after using washroom.
- Drink boiled water when you suspect there is chance of water getting contaminated.