Tapeworm (Taeniasis/Cysticercosis) FAQs

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  Taeniasis Taeniasis (Taenia saginata, Taenia solium, Tapeworm infection)
ICD-9 123; ICD-10 B68

What you should know about: Taeniasis

What is taeniasis?

Taeniasis is an infection of the digestive tract by adult tapeworms. People can get the infection from beef, which generally carries the tapeworm Taenia saginata, or pigs, which carry Taenia solium.

What are the symptoms of taeniasis? What does taeniasis cause?
Most cases are have no symptoms and in many cases patients become aware of the infection by noting proglottids (segments of tapeworm) in stools or mobile Taenia saginata roglottids emerging from the anus. If they occur, symptoms are mild and non-specific and include abdominal pain, digestive disorders, excessive appetite or loss of appetite, weakness and loss of weight.

How is taeniasis spread? How do people get taeniasis?
Taeniasis results from eating raw or undercooked pork or beef contaminated with the larval stage of the pork or beef tapeworm. The larvae from the infected meat develop in the human intestine into adult tapeworms. The proglottids of the tapeworm mature and become filled with eggs. Proglottids detach and eggs are then passed in the feces. The eggs can live in the environment for months or even years. Cattle and pigs become infected when they ingest vegetation containing the eggs. The eggs hatch, develop into the larval stage, and become embedded into the animal's muscles. Person-to-person transmission may occur in Taenia solium infection, but the result is cysticercosis rather than tapeworm formation.

What is cysticercosis? How is it different from taeniasis?
While taeniasis is an infection by the adult beef or pork tapeworms, cysticercosis is an infection by the larval stage of the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium. Cysticercosis commonly occurs when humans accidentally ingest Taenia solium eggs. Once the eggs hatch in the human's small intestine, the larvae penetrate the lining of the small intestine and enter the blood stream.  From here the larvae can be distributed to any organ in the body, where they form cysts.   Cysts are found most frequently in skin, skeletal muscle, heart, eye, and central nervous system (CNS). Neurocysticercosis, the infection of the human CNS by Taenia solium larvae, is the major cause of acquired epilepsy in the world.

Many cases of cysticercosis probably result from a person ingesting eggs that are produced by a tapeworm living in his or her own intestinal tract. People can also be infected via food or water contaminated with eggs, or via eggs present in a household or work environment. 

Due to increased immigration from Central America and travel to areas where cysticercosis is found, cysticercosis is on the rise in the US, especially in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado.

Taeniasis Diagram

National Center for Infectious Diseases. DPDx Identification and Diagnosis of Parasites of Public Health Concern Parasites & Health

How common is taeniasis?
Approximately 50 million persons are infected with both parasites worldwide; some 50,000 die of cysticercosis annually. In the US, laws governing feeding practices and inspection of domestic food animals have largely eliminated the problem of tapeworm. An estimated 1,000 new cases of cysticercosis are diagnosed in the US each year.

How do I protect myself from taeniasis?
Adequate cooking of meat destroys the tapeworm larvae and will prevent infection by the tapeworm. Good hygiene and hand washing after using the toilet will prevent self-infection in a person with tapeworms. Infection in animals is prevented by protection of the animal feed or grazing areas from contamination by human feces.

How do I protect others from taeniasis? 
Infected individuals can expose other individuals to Taeniasis solium eggs, often via food handling. Refrain from handling food if you know you may be infected and resume this activity only after your healthcare provider has instructed you to do so.

Infected individuals can prevent infection in animals by making sure that fecal contamination of animal food or grazing areas does not occur.

What do I do if I think I have taeniasis?
Consult your healthcare provider.

How are taeniasis infections diagnosed?
Identification of segments, eggs, or head of the parasite in the feces diagnoses taeniasis, but is not possible during the first 3 months following infection, prior to development of adult tapeworms. The doctor may ask you to provide additional stool samples during a time interval. Persons who are found to have eggs or proglottids in their feces could be evaluated with a blood test since self-infection, and cysticercosis, can occur.

How is taeniasis treated?
Tapeworms are treated with oral medications . Surgery is sometimes necessary to treat cysticercosis cases in the eyes, cases that are not responsive to drug treatment, or to reduce brain swelling.

Should I worry about taeniasis when I travel out of the country?
Taeniasis is found worldwide. Taenia saginata is prevalent in regions where cattle are raised: Africa, Middle East, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia. Taenia solium is prevalent in Central and South America (especially in Mexico), Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Micronesia.

When traveling in developing countries or where taeniasis has been reported, avoid eating raw or undercooked pork and other meats; don’t eat meat of pigs that are likely to be infected with the tapeworm; and, wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet and especially before handling food.