Humans develop tapeworms by consuming raw or undercooked meat from infected animals, handling food improperly or maintaining poor hygiene habits. A tapeworm enters the body as larvae and may grow to be up to 12 feet in its adult stage. The tapeworm often passes from a person's body through defecation. Tapeworms, (taeniasis), may go unnoticed by a person, sometimes with little effect. Other times, the long-term consequences of untreated tapeworm infestation are dire.
Unless a person sees the tapeworm in his stool as it passes from the body, he may be unaware of the infestation since it often remains asymptomatic or mimics typical gastrointestinal problems. The common symptoms include: abdominal cramps or pain, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue or weight loss. In some cases, a tapeworm infestation may cause major, long-term health issues for a person.
Nervous System Disorders
If the body is missing certain vitamins, it can't produce the proper amount of red blood cells needed to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. A tapeworm depletes vitamin B-12, which in turn causes vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia (pernicious anemia). An injection of vitamin B-12 may be given to treat the condition. While vitamin B-12 is important for the production of red blood cells, it's also important in the maintenance of the body's nervous system. A lack of vitamin B-12 causes neurological problems ranging from tingling of the hands and feet to brain-function problems that may become permanent.
Cystic Echinococcosis (CE)
The tapeworm larvae may develop into fluid-filled cysts that travel through the bloodstream and expand around vital organs, most often the liver, followed by the lungs. This infection, cystic echinococcosis, produces the damaging cysts that can grow unnoticed for up to 20 years, taking up space in the body's organs, thereby inhibiting function.
Alveolar Echinococcosis (AE)
While CE causes cysts, alveolar echinococcosis (AE) causes firm, solid, parasitic tumors to grow, primarily in the liver. A main complication associated with AE is biliary obstruction with a bacterial or fungal superinfection. If left untreated, those with AE have a 40 percent survival rate.
- Medline Plus: Taeniasis
- Mayo Clinic: Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
- Medscape: Tapeworm Infestation
- Johns Hopkins Portfolio; Tapeworm Infestation; 2008
- The Register; How Much Damage Does a Tapeworm Do to the Human Body?; Dr. Stephen Juan; January 2007
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites: Echinococcosis
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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