Tapeworm infections are usually mild but are potentially harmful, and symptoms should be taken seriously. If symptoms go untreated, infections may worsen, resulting in fever, seizures, allergic reactions, cystic lumps and neurological issues. Tapeworm infections occur when a person comes into contact with infected faeces or consumes contaminated food or water. Tapeworms can live for up to 20 years and grow to 50 feet long.
Tapeworms enter the body as larvae or eggs through food or water, or after contact with contaminated faeces. Touching one's mouth with a hand that has had contact with tapeworm eggs or larvae can lead to infection. Once in the body, larvae attach themselves to the large intestine and grow there, laying more eggs. Ingested tapeworm eggs tend to move to different parts of the body, forming cysts.
Symptoms in Adults
Many people experience no symptoms from tapeworm infections, but for those who do, symptoms may seriously interfere with day-to-day life. These include weakness, fever, loss of appetite, allergic reactions, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, and possibly weight loss, although some doctors do not believe this last symptom is associated with infection. Sufferers also may not absorb as many nutrients from food as they should. Left untreated, tapeworm infection may lead to serious symptoms such as neurological damage and seizure.
Symptoms in Children
Children may suffer from additional symptoms besides the ones described above. These include difficulty sleeping, headaches, and an itchy posterior.
Symptom Absence and Misinterpretations
Tapeworm infections are very common, and most people do not notice any symptoms at all. Symptoms of tapeworm infection, when they do occur, are often misdiagnosed as being irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stress-related or other abdominal ailments. The most obvious sign that symptoms are associated with tapeworm infection is the appearance of tapeworm bodies in one's faeces.
Medical treatment consists of prescription drugs including praziquantel, niclosamide and quinacrine hydrochloride (Atabrine). These drugs dissolve the tapeworm, thus eliminating the infection. Some cases may require more than one treatment. Most cases are easily treated and resolved.
Adherents to homeopathy believe that tapeworm infections may be treated without prescription medication, with colon cleansing or other natural treatments. Acidic foods, when eaten on an empty stomach, are said to dissolve tapeworms. These foods include pineapples, tomatoes, papayas and cranberries. Apple cider vinegar in small amounts, even 2 tablespoons, may work well, and cloves eaten with a meal have been known to kill tapeworm eggs.
Tapeworm infections can be avoided in several ways. Raw meat and vegetables should be washed in safe or sterilised water before eating or cooking, and raw fish or meat should be frozen for 12-24 hours prior to cooking. Hands should be washed after using the bathroom and before handling food. If one works in an environment where one comes into contact with faeces (such as a day care centre), hands should be washed frequently. Tapeworm infections are common in animals and should be treated in pets or livestock immediately upon discovery.