Taenia Solium Cysticercosis (Pork Tapeworm)

Taeniasis is an intestinal infection with adult tapeworms. Pork tapeworm infection is caused by the worm taenia solium. Infected pigs have the larvae (cysticerci) in their meat. Humans acquire the infection by eating raw or undercooked pork, the larvae are released and mature into adult tapeworms in the intestines. The adult tapeworm infection is not life threatening and is most often noticed when parts of the worm emerge from the anus.

However; if one ingests the eggs or one of the segments of the adult tapeworm that contain the eggs (through contaminated hands, food or water), these hatch in the intestine and the larvae called ‘cysticerci’ migrate to different organs causing potentially life threatening infection. This illness is called ‘cysticercosis.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide. However areas of highest prevalence are Central and South America, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

How is it transmitted?

It is transmitted by the ingestion of raw or undercooked pork containing the cyst of the tapeworm. The cyst develops into an adult tapeworm in the human intestine.

Cysticercosis occurs when the eggs of adult tapeworm are directly ingested from contaminated food, water or fecally soiled hands.

Is it contagious from person to person?

Cysticercosis can be contagious from person to person if you ingest fecal material of an infected individual through soiled hands. Infected individuals can spread the infection to others through unsanitary food handling.

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low if one avoids raw or undercooked pork or if one makes sure that all food are properly washed and cooked.

How soon after exposure will one develop symptoms?

Symptoms develop anywhere from 2-3 months after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Most people experience no symptoms, except for finding parts of the tapeworm pass from the anus. Abdominal cramps or loss of appetite may be seen in some.

However in cases of cysticercosis, the larvae migrate into skin and muscles causing small rice size lumps, or more seriously localize in the eye, central nervous system or the heart resulting in visual changes, seizures, weakness, headaches or heart block.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

The segments of the adult tapeworm that have migrated out of the anus, called ‘proglottids’, can be visualized in stool or on clothing.

Cysticercosis of the skin and muscles is diagnosed by characteristic skin lesions and x-rays showing calcified rice size scars. Neurocysticercosis is diagnosed by typical lesions on CAT or MRI scans of the brain and specific blood antibody tests.

Is there any treatment?

Medications like Praziquantel and Albendazole are effective. Sometimes prednisone needs to be given simultaneously in cases of eye, brain or heart involvement to decrease the risk of scarring.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Avoid eating raw or undercooked pork dishes and make sure all produce is washed thoroughly and/ or cooked fully. Practice strict hand hygiene.

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