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Taeniasis and Cysticercosis (Pork Tapeworm)

What are taeniasis and cysticercosis?

Taeniasis and cysticercosis are diseases of humans caused by a tapeworm (Taenia solium) that normally infects pigs. Taeniasis is an intestinal infection with the adult stage of the tapeworm. Cysticercosis is a tissue infection with the larval stage cysts of the tapeworm.

How are these infections acquired?

People get taeniasis from eating raw or undercooked pork that contains larval cysts. Once in the person’s intestine, the larval cysts develop into adult tapeworms and produce a large number of eggs.

People and pigs develop cysticercosis from swallowing the tapeworm eggs in the feces from an infected human. The eggs hatch in the small intestine and larvae migrate throughout the body before forming cysts. Cysts can form in a variety of tissues, including the brain where the condition is called neurocysticercosis.

Where do taeniasis and cysticercosis occur?

The tapeworm, Taenia solium, is found wherever humans and pigs exist together. Taeniasis and cysticercosis infections are rare in the United States, but common in countries where pigs roam freely and sanitation is poor.

What are the symptoms of infection?

Taeniasis is often asymptomatic, but patients can experience nervousness, weight loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, and abdominal pain.

Symptoms of cysticercosis vary, depending on where the cysts form in the body.
  • Muscle: Cysts in muscles usually do not cause symptoms, but lumps may be felt under the skin.
  • Eye: Cysts may float in the eye and cause blurred vision or a detached retina.
  • Brain, spinal cord: Neurocysticercosis can cause seizures, headaches, psychiatric disturbances, difficulty with balance, and death.

How soon after infections do symptoms appear?

Persons with taeniasis have eggs in their feces 8 to 12 weeks after initial infection. The adult tapeworm can live in the intestine and produce eggs for more than 30 years. Symptoms of cysticercosis may appear from a few weeks to ten years or more after infection, often after the larval cysts die.

How is infection with pork tapeworm diagnosed?

Taeniasis is diagnosed by laboratory detection of tapeworm eggs in stool specimens. Neurocysticercosis may be diagnosed with imaging technology such as MRI or CT.

What is the treatment for taeniasis and cysticercosis?

Taeniasis is treated with anti-parasite medications. Although taeniasis is often asymptomatic, treatment is important to prevent the patient from infecting other people and pigs. Cysticercosis, particularly neurocysticercosis, is more difficult to treat, but not all cases need to be treated. Anti-parasite and anti-inflammatory drugs are often used together. Larval cysts may need to be surgically removed from some patients with cysticercosis.

How can I prevent​​ pork tapeworm infection?

Pork tapeworm infection can be prevented by avoiding eating raw or undercooked pork. Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet and before handling food, especially when traveling in developing countries.

Where can I find more inf​ormation about cysticercosis?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information available on their Cy​sticercosis website.
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