What is a tapeworm?
A tapeworm is a parasite of cestoda class which can inhabit human’s intestines. It is usually flat, segmented and it looks like a ribbon or a tape, hence its name.
Tapeworms that commonly affect humans are the pork tapeworm, the beef tapeworm, the fish tapeworm, the dog tapeworm, and the dwarf tapeworm.
They can cause other illnesses, which happens if a tapeworm leaves larvae someplace outside the intestines.
In the industrialized countries tapeworms are not particularly common, but in developing countries the number of tapeworm cases is rather high.
If there is just the tapeworm and not its larvae in other parts of the body, tapeworms can be effectively eliminated with appropriate medication.
Tapeworm larvae infection is not the same thing as adult tapeworm infection. This is because adult tapeworms stay in the intestines while larvae can travel to brain or muscles and pose a serious danger.
Causes of tapeworm infections
Infection with tapeworms usually occurs after eating raw contaminated beef, pork or fish.
Eating raw beef or pork meat that contains larvae of the tapeworm can cause an infection after the larvae grow inside the intestines. Pork tapeworm can also be contracted by ingesting eggs via food or water contaminated with human feces or if the eggs reach the intestines after a person touches contaminated person or items and then touches mouth.
Infection with fish tapeworm occurs after eating raw fish that is contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae. It is more common in countries where people tend to eat more raw fish, like Japan, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
Dwarf tapeworm can pass by eggs from one person to another due to improper hygiene. A person may carry eggs on his or her hands and then tough another person or an object, which then becomes infected or contaminated. It is also possible for one person to re-infect him or herself.
The eggs hatch, turn into adults and live inside the intestines.
Small insects like fleas or grain beetles can also transmit the infection. It happens if they pick up the tapeworm eggs from mouse or rat feces and then infect a human if they are accidentally swallowed.
A dwarf tapeworm affects more children than adults and it is more common in areas characterized by poor hygiene and presence of fleas.
Dog tapeworm can affect humans as well. It may happen if a person touches the contaminated dog’s feces and then brings the hand to the mouth. This disease is called hyatid disease and it is more common in sheep-farming areas.