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Tapeworm Symptoms in People

Updated on May 28, 2010

Tapeworms are nasty little buggers, but before you go checking for symptoms you should first be aware that there are several types of tapeworms that infest people. Yep, that's right -- the most common ways tapeworms infect people are via infectious pork, beef, fish or ingesting sewage-tainted drinking water. (There are other modes of transmission but these are the biggies.) The following article will help you sort out whether or not you've got cause to pop into the doctor's office and ask for some tests, but it's worth noting that you can always pop in for these tests just to be on the safe side, even if you're not sure you've got the right symptoms.

Note that in all cases of worm infestation the body can produce an allergic reaction to the toxins which can result in something akin to asthma, hives, personality changes and other behavioral issues.

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Beef Tapeworm Symptoms (T. saginata)

T. saginata is the lovely little beef tapeworm. It fancies both cows and people and leads to a very big worm in humans, which can get up to 60+ feet long in some cases. Often, there are no symptoms with this type of infection, but if you've got them they would likely involve the following: weight loss, digestive issues (upset tummy, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, etc), headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite.

Pork Tapeworm Symptoms (T. solium)

T. solium is the pork tapeworm. It doesn't get quite as big as the tapeworm, but I'm guessing you'd still rather not play host to it. The life cycle's a bit different to the beef tapeworm and so the pork tapeworm often leads to an entirely different experience. When infection occurs, the parasite takes up residence in body tissue and can lead to all sorts of problems including: headaches, seizures, dementia, blindness, and other scary scenarios. This is not the tapeworm that makes you lose weight, this is the tapeworm that plays havoc on your body.

Fish Tapeworm (D. latum)

D. latum is something you get from eating raw or undercooked fish. And I'm not talking about sushi (though sushi has its own worm potential) -- you can get this from eating trout, pike and other species of fish. The worm itself can get up to about 30 ft, so it's nothing to laugh at! Symptoms do tend to be mild and include: Intestinal upset, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, anemia and a B12 deficiency.

Dwarf Tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana)

Hymenolepis nana has a low infection rate in the West, but in some places in the East the rate is scarily close to 100%, particularly in areas with poor sanitation and drinking water. You can get this as a tourist, so don't write it off just because you live in the US or UK. It's not such a huge deal in grown-ups but in kids it can be very worrisome as the worms invade the intestinal tissue and suck up all the nutrients. A mild infection is usually asymptomatic, but if you've got a heavy infestation the symptoms can include: intestinal upset, restlessness, irritability, itching of the anus and/or nose, vomiting, difficulty sleeping, and in rare cases it can cause an increase in appetite, hives, pain in your arm or legs, and changes in behavior.

Image: Suat Eman /


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