Infectious Diseases

Symptoms and Treatment of Tapeworm Infection in Humans

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"Symptoms and Treatment of Tapeworm Infection in Humans"
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Tapeworm infestation is a parasitic disease, which prevails in areas with poor sanitary facilities and practices, and it can spread from its host to another host through fecal contamination.

How does tapeworm infestation spread?

A person can contract the disease by ingesting tapeworm eggs or larvae. In most instances, undercooked meats would be the main source transmitting larvae or eggs in to the digestive tract of the consumer. At the same time, an infected person or an animal can excrete tapeworm eggs or larvae in its stools, which can therefore contaminate the soil and secondarily the foods consumed by humans. In whatever means, poor sanitary practices are the main culprit for tapeworm infestations, which can be readily prevented through active measures.

What is the general appearance of a person infested with tapeworms?

The tapeworm infestation remains prevalent in areas such as Southeast Asia and East Africa while not all infested persons would display symptoms. In most instances, an infected person would live a normal life without any digestive or other relevant symptoms. Many others would only have mild symptoms, which usually respond to oral medications. However, the seriousness of the infestation will depend on the size of the tapeworm, its number in the intestinal tract, invasiveness and other co-morbid illnesses.

What are the common symptoms of tapeworm infestation?

When considering the symptoms of tapeworm infestation, many would remain asymptomatic even after developing large tapeworms within the intestine. However, many individuals who feel symptoms would fall into the category of mild infestations. The common symptoms mentioned by such individuals include, nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, mild abdominal pain, loose motions, weight loss, and symptoms related to nutritional deficiency states. Although these are the common findings in such patients, one may not show all these symptoms at the same time.

What are the symptoms related to ‘invasive’ tapeworm infestations?

In patients who are suffering from severe tapeworm infestations, as in the case of invasive tapeworm infestations, the symptoms may not be restricted to the intestine alone. Thus, damage to the nearby structures, as well as to organs at a distance can be present.

Therefore, the manifestations of an invasive tapeworm infection may include seizures, cystic masses or lumps, allergic reactions, secondary infections by bacteria, fever, and other organ specific manifestations, which may vary from one organ to another. Most of these symptoms would be the result of invasive larvae, which gives rise to cyst formation, or tissue damage in organs such as brain, liver, eyes, and other body organs. At the same time, adult tapeworms can obstruct duct systems such as the bile duct as well.

What treatment options are available for symptomatic disease?

The treatment of tapeworm infestations would most likely take place when significant symptoms become apparent or stools of an infected person reveals tapeworm eggs or larvae and sometimes even adult worms. In most instances, oral anti-helmintic drugs would be enough to destroy the adult tapeworms although eggs and larvae might resist such treatment. Thus, intermittent treatment can be made use for destroying the larval and egg forms of tapeworm at a different time. Among the most effective treatment regimes, use of praziquante, albendazole and nitazoxanide can be highlighted.

However, when the infestation becomes serious, there will be a need for trying other treatment modalities, apart from the use of anti-helmintic drugs. Among such treatment, antiepileptic drugs for controlling seizures and anti-inflammatory drugs to tackle the inflammation caused by tapeworm cysts would be rather useful.

When considering invasive methods of treatment, draining the accumulated fluid in the brain because of the blocked cerebrospinal fluid flow using a shunt and surgical removal of cysts could be highlighted.


However, depending on the type of tapeworm infestation and the seriousness of the illness, experienced clinicians may undertake different treatment approaches. Nevertheless, the most effective measure for tapeworm infestations remains to be its prevention through adhering to good sanitary practices and proper hand washing techniques.


Oxford textbook of Medicine: 5th Edition

More about this author: Dr Pandula Siribaddana

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