A tape worm (or cestoda) is a type of flatworm that can infect the intestines of a human. It is one of oldest known parasites. Tapeworms vary in size and can grow to anywhere between 6 inches and 26 feet long. The tape worm receives its nutrition by absorbing partially-digested substances from its host through its skin.
A tapeworm has three parts:
1. A head
2. A neck
3. Body segments called proglottids
A tape worm attaches its head to the mucosa of the intestine. It is both male and female and can, thereby, fertilize and reproduce itself. Each of the proglottids or tapeworm body segments contain eggs that break off and travel to other parts of the body. Larval cysts can cause various symptoms, depending on the parts of the body they have migrated to.
Humans can get tapeworms from water, beef, pork and fish.
When a tapeworm embryo finds a home, such as the liver or muscle of a cow, it forms a fluid sac called a cyst. It encloses itself within the sac. When the beef is consumed by humans, the cyst with the tapeworm embryo is transferred to the human.
Symptoms of a Tapeworm Infection:
* Weight loss
* Abdominal discomfort
Many times a person with a tapeworm will have no symptoms at all until he finds worm segments in his stool or feel a piece of the worm come out through the anus.
After the tapeworm has reproduced and migrated to other parts of the body, more serious – even life-threatening symptoms can develop:
* Muscular weakness
A stool sample will show tapeworm segments or eggs. When there are cysts in the brain or other organs or muscle, an MRI or CT scan of the patient (host) will show the location of the cysts. Blood tests will also reveal the presence of certain types of tapeworms in the blood.
Intestinal tapeworms are treated with the drug praziquantel, taken in a single dose. The presence of cysts (or cysicercosis) is usually not treated unless the brain has become infected. If this is the case, corticosteroids are given to minimize inflammation.
Occasionally, praziquantel or albendazole are given to kill tapeworms in humans, depending on their location and number. However, these drugs cannot be given to treat cysts in the spinal cord or the eye because they cause extreme inflammation that can damage adjacent tissue.
The drugs given to treat tapeworm infections have significant side-effects, and should be taken under the supervision of a doctor.
Thoroughly cook freshwater fish and meat to an internal temperature of more than 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid eating rare beef. Note that drying and smoking will not kill cysts. Prolonged freezing also kills cysts. Avoid freshwater fish as sushi unless it has been cooked, correctly frozen or cured in brine.
Meat inspectors are trained to find tapeworm cysts in the meat they inspect. Human waste should be treated correctly.
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom and after handling meat and fish. Don’t drink water from localities where tapeworms are known to be present.
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