How does a tapeworm get into the human body?

Updated February 21, 2017

The tapeworm is a creature that isn't loved by many. Most people only see a section of the tapeworm when they discover a piece left behind from a pet. Although rare, human beings can also play host to a tapeworm.

Where They Live

The tapeworm gets its name because their bodies are very flat, much like tape. They are parasitic by nature, mostly living inside the intestinal tracks and feeding off of ingested nutrients and vitamins. Many tapeworm species have several rows of teeth that they use to clamp onto an intestinal wall, often living for up to 20 years. Tapeworms like to grow, too. They can be as long as 50 feet.

Animals get tapeworms from fleas. Fleas that shed digested blood are actually providing food for tapeworm larvae. Those larvae will hang out on the flea, which can be eaten by your dog when he decides to lick himself. If that flea gets in his body and is digested, the tapeworm larvae will break free and start living the high life in the lower bowels, only to be seen when your dog passes his stool.

Human Infection and Prevention

How humans get tapeworms largely has to do with the quality of foods you eat. Tapeworms are known to live in beef and pork. If you are served an undercooked portion of these meats, the tapeworm could still be surviving and make its way through your digestive system and into your intestinal walls. A tapeworm can also indirectly enter your body from reproduction. Some tapeworm species deposit dozens of larvae into the animal's muscle tissues. Again, if you are served undercooked meats, those larvae can hatch once they enter your body.

Freshwater fish are another way people can get tapeworms. If raw sewage is pumped into freshwater, it can be transporting tapeworms from animal faeces. That faeces is consumed by crustaceans, which are then eaten by the fish. If you eat raw fish with these tapeworms, you can play host to a fish tapeworm that will rob you of B12 vitamins.

Preventing tapeworms can be done by not consuming raw foods. The chances of getting a tapeworm through raw food consumption are very slight in industrious nations. Thoroughly cooking your meat or freezing it for a few days usually kills any tapeworms inside it. Getting rid of another source like fleas is also a way to prevent tapeworms. But if you believe that you are infected, a doctor may prescribe either niclocide or biltricide, which can treat more common tape worm species infections.

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About the Author

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.