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Tapeworm Infection

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is a tapeworm infection?

Tapeworms are flat worms that are found in contaminated beef, pork, or fish. They are parasites. A tapeworm infection develops when you eat or drink food or water contaminated with infected bowel movement. For example, eating undercooked meat from an infected animal. Or, if you eat food prepared by an infected person who did not wash his or her hands well after having a bowel movement. Tapeworms live in your intestines and feed off the food you eat. They can sometimes move to other parts of your body such as your muscles, eyes, or brain. Cysts form in these areas and can cause serious problems. This is called cysticercosis or neurocysticercosis.

What are the signs and symptoms of a tapeworm infection?

You may not have symptoms of a tapeworm infection. Sometimes tapeworms can cause the following:

  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite or a craving for salt
  • Weight loss or inability to absorb nutrients from food
  • Weakness, tiredness, or dizziness

How is a tapeworm infection diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may show if your body is fighting an infection caused by tapeworms.
  • A bowel movement sample may show the type of tapeworm causing the infection.
  • A CT or MRI may be needed in severe cases. These tests will show if the tapeworms have damaged areas outside of your intestines. You may be given contrast liquid to help your brain show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a tapeworm infection treated?

Treatment depends on the kind of tapeworm you have. A tapeworm infection is usually treated with medicine taken by mouth. This medicine paralyzes the tapeworms, which then pass from your body in your bowel movements. Larger tapeworms may cause cramps when they pass from your body.

How can a tapeworm infection be prevented?

  • Clean thoroughly. Wash your hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after you handle food. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom or change a diaper. Rinse fruits and vegetables in running water. Clean cutting boards, knives, countertops, and other areas where you prepare food before and after you cook. Wash sponges and dishtowels weekly in hot water.
  • Cook food all the way through. Cook meat until the juices run clear and the middle is no longer pink. Cook fish until it is solid in color (not clear) and flakes when you separate it with a fork. Cook meat to 145°F (63°C) for whole cuts of meat. Cook ground meat and poultry to 160°F (71°C). Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is heated to a temperature that will kill bacteria.
  • Store food properly. Freeze meat for at least 4 days and fish for at least 24 hours before eating to help kill tapeworm eggs and larvae.
  • Do not eat raw fish or meat. Separate raw and cooked foods. Keep raw meat and its juices away from other foods to prevent the spread of bacteria. Always put cooked food on a clean platter. Never use a platter that held raw meat.
  • Be careful with food and drinks when you travel. Wash or cook fruits and vegetables with water that has been boiled or chemically treated.

Call or have someone call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have a seizure.
  • You have trouble moving, walking, or talking.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever, chills, or headache.
  • You notice a lump or mass under your skin.
  • You see a white worm in your bowel movement.
  • Your symptoms do not get better with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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