Symptoms of a tapeworm infection can vary depending on where the tapeworm larvae have migrated in the body, the load of tapeworms present, and the species of tapeworm involved in the infection. In most instances, a tapeworm infection causes no symptoms. If symptoms are present and the tapeworm infection remains in the intestines, the most common symptoms are stomach upset, abdominal pain, and weight loss. In some instances, tapeworm larvae will leave the intestines and form cysts in other parts of the body. When this happens, symptoms can include seizures, fever, and other neurological abnormalities.
A tapeworm infection begins when a person eats food that contains tapeworm eggs or larvae. The larvae then, in most instances, travel to the intestines, where they grow into adult tapeworms. Once in the intestines, the tapeworm can live for up to 20 years.
There are several different types of tapeworms that will parasitize people. The beef tapeworm will cause symptoms such as nutritional problems, nausea, and abdominal pain. The beef tapeworm Taenia saginata can grow to 27 feet (8 m) in length.
The pork tapeworm creates the most serious symptoms. The larva of this tapeworm is likely to migrate to the brain, eyes, or muscles. This species, Taenia solium, can grow to 13 feet (4 m).
The dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, can be caught from canine pets. Children are most likely to get this species of tapeworm infection. Routine de-worming medications will not rid a dog of a tapeworm infection. Symptoms, if any, with a dog tapeworm are similar to those in other types and include possible weight loss, mild abdominal pain, and nausea.
There are additional complications that can develop with a tapeworm infection. With an intestinal infection, it is possible for the tapeworms to grow large enough that they block major organs, though this is rare. If tapeworm larvae migrate to other parts of the body, visual impairment, dementia, and even death can result.
A tapeworm infection is most commonly treated with praziquantel. In the case of tapeworms migrating to other parts of the body, treatment can include medications for inflammation and to prevent seizures. Surgery may also be necessary.
The best prevention for tapeworm infection is to practice hand washing before eating. It’s also important to keep pets on flea preventative and to treat pets for tapeworm infection at the first signs the pet may have the parasite. Also ensure that meat is thoroughly cooked before consumption.