What Is Tapeworm?
Tapeworms also referred to as "cestodes," are parasites that infect mammalian hosts. There are different types of tapeworms. Beef (taenia Naginata), fish (di-phyllo bothrium), dwarf and pork (taenia sodium) tapeworms most commonly affect human hosts.
Tapeworms mostly occupy the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of their host, but can also affect other organs. Tapeworms are ingested in different stages of their parasitic growth cycle, usually as eggs or larvae via contaminated sources such as soil or contact with animal faeces.
Pork tapeworm (Taenia sodium) infection is slightly more common than beef tapeworms in humans. Taenia sodium can grow to about 3.5 meters in length and can live up to twenty-five years. Larvae are ingested when eating uncooked meat. The larvae are found in the muscles of the pig, and when meat is consumed without proper cooking, the live larvae are released in the gastrointestinal tract.
Pork larvae infestation of the GIT is referred to as taeniasis, while infestation in organs other than the GIT is called cysticercosis. Pork larvae can migrate out of the gastrointestinal tract, and form cysts in organs such as the spleen or the liver. Neurocysticercosis occurs when pork larvae migrate and deposit in the brain. Neurocysticercosis is the commonest parasitic infestation in the central nervous system worldwide.
Beef tapeworm (Taenia Naginata) occupy the small intestines of hosts. They are long flat worms and attach themselves to the mucosal wall of the intestines with their scolex (head). They survive by feeding off the nutrients in the intestines consumed by the host. They can be up to nine meters in length. To protect themselves from the host’s immune system, they tunnel into the muscles or other organs and form protective cysts around themselves. These cysts can remain undetected for long periods, and may only cause symptoms after years of infestation.
Tapeworm treatment is through antiparasitic medications, while the diagnosis is made on clinical grounds. CT scans or MRIs may be needed in the case of chronic cysticercosis, especially if central nervous system infection is suspected.
Tapeworms are endemic to tropical areas in Asia, central and southern America, as well as central and southern Africa. Low income and developing countries are typically more affected due to lesser hygiene and sanitation standards.
What Are The Symptoms Of Tapeworm?
Infestation by tapeworms is asymptomatic in the majority of cases. Generalised symptoms include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Hunger and increased appetite
- Visualisation of worms when passed in faeces
- Micronutrient malnutrition
- Weight loss despite adequate nutritional intake
Cysticercosis infestation’s symptoms depend on which area is affected. Muscle infestation will present with myalgia, fever, or calcified lumps in muscle. Eye infestation can affect eye muscles, causing visual disturbances or loss of vision. Skin infestation can cause hardened subcutaneous nodules that may be painful.
Neurocysticercosis causes its own set of symptoms. Up to eighty percent of cases are asymptomatic. According to the World Health Organisation, 30% of epilepsy cases in endemic areas may be due to tapeworm infection. After evading the host's immune system for some years, the cyst will eventually break down, and start an inflammatory reaction in the tissues. This can lead to symptoms such as:
Symptoms of raised intracranial pressure
- Neurological fall-out
- Epilepsy or unexplained seizures
- Infection of the brain or meninges (meningo/-encephalitis)
What Are The Causes Of Tapeworm?
The biggest cause of tapeworm infestation is ingestion of viable larvae. The commonest route is via oral ingestion of undercooked or raw meats, containing larvae.
It is possible to be contaminated by tapeworms without dietary consumption, through contact with a host or carrier. Eggs can typically be found under the fingernails of hosts.
Eating of foods prepared in areas of improper hygiene conditions may also lead to infestation. Contaminated soil can spread the larvae to unwashed fruits and vegetables.
What Are The Things One Should Do To Manage Tapeworm?
- Proper toilet hygiene is essential. Self-reinfection is possible if good hygiene measures are not adhered to. Proper handwashing, as well as washing of towels and linen, is important.
- Ensure access to clean water/ sterilize water before use.
- Proper hand washing before handling food and after eating, especially in tropical or endemic areas.
- Cook foods to at least 52 degrees Celsius to kill eggs or larvae
- Freeze meats for at least 12 to 24 hours before thawing can help to kill off larvae.
What Are The Things One Should Avoid To Manage Tapeworm?
Do not delay treating pets (dogs) and/or livestock six monthly for possible tapeworm infestation, as it can easily spread to human hosts and go undetected.
What Are The Best Foods For Tapeworm?
- Garlic gloves- natural antiparasitic and antibiotic.
- Coconut oil- Lauric acid found in coconut oil and is a strong anti-parasitic.
- Green leafy vegetables high in antioxidants help to clear the infection.
- Other high antioxidant foods such as berries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes assist the body in fighting off parasites.
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Pineapple- contains bromelain, specifically useful in killing parasites.
- High fibre foods- chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and bone broths. Helps relieve intestinal inflammation and restore gut health.
What Are The Worst Foods For Tapeworm?
- Undercooked or raw meats such as pork or beef should be avoided.
- Sugar. Used by parasites for fuel and energy. Parasite infestation may cause sugar cravings.
- Refined carbohydrates. Cause fluctuation in sugar levels and inflammation in the gut lining- creating a perfect environment for parasites to grow in.
- Processed foods increase intestinal as well as the systemic infestation.
What Are The Medicines For Tapeworm?
What Are The Tips To Manage Tapeworm?
Natural supplements can assist in fighting off parasitic infestations, specifically:
- Oregano oil
- Black walnut
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Coffee enema or salt water flush- colon cleanse