Cysticercosis, also known in layman terms as Tapeworm Infection, is a tissue infection caused due to ingestion of tapeworm eggs or larvae. Also known as Taeniasis, it is caused due to the pork tapeworm which originates in 3 different species that are Taenia solium, Taenia asiatica and Taenia saginata out of which only T. solium causes chronic health complications. Also Read: Schistosomiasis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Humans usually get infected by this infection by consuming undercooked or raw meat of infected pigs. The embryonated eggs or oncospheres from the pig meat hatch and grow. The worms circulate through the blood to the various tissues. The adult tapeworms have a head, neck and a series of segments called proglottids. A person suffering from the intestinal infection will have the head also known as scolex which is a sucker like structure by which it attaches itself to the tissues and blood vessels. Being stuck to the intestinal wall the proglottids grow, multiply and lay more eggs. At a given time, some tapeworms can be inactive and live up to 20-30 years in the host. But some of them become viable and ultimately cause chronic infectious symptoms by forming cysts in the various body tissues. The infectious tapeworm eggs will then pass through the human faecal matter out into the open surroundings. Pigs eating waste material and faecal matter pick up the tapeworm eggs and commence the entire life cycle of the tapeworm again.
While inside the human body, the tapeworm can also spread to the nervous system and can cause Neurocysticercosis. The neural condition can be further classified into Parenchymal and Extraparenchymal cysticercosis.
Presence of the tapeworm infection in the brain parenchyma.
Presence of the tapeworm in the cerebrospinal fluid within the cisterns, ventricles, subarachnoid space inside the eyes or spinal column.
Although it is not contagious, yet cysticercosis has led to epidemics across several developing nations including Asia, America and Africa. According to the statistical data of the World Health Organization, cysticercosis has already affected around 50-100 million people worldwide. Although, in some people, the tapeworms are non-viable and reside in the stomach or intestines for many years whereas in others it is quite active or viable and causes extensive infectious symptoms. Also Read: Parasitic Infections Can Affect Kids With Weaker Immunity
The various risk factors include:
- People living in rural developing regions where cows and pigs roam around freely and come into contact with human faecal matter
- Consumption of raw uncooked meat
- Ingestion of contaminated water
- Staying with a person who is infected
- Having a weak immune system
If the parasitic infection is left untreated and allowed to multiply within the human body, it can ultimately lead to stroke, loss of vision, seizure, cognitive abnormalities and even death.
Symptoms arise approximately 6-8 weeks after the invasion of the tapeworm eggs. The invasion period depends upon person to person and in certain cases, there might not even be any signs. The usual signs and symptoms include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
- Poor absorption of nutrients from food
- Muscle swelling and inflammation
- Muscular atrophy and scarring
- Retinal oedema
- Haemorrhage in the eye
- Visual impairment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Learning disability
Diagnosis And Treatment
It is advisable to consult a doctor once you notice any of the following symptoms to start treatment at the earliest. The doctor usually does a thorough physical examination and acknowledges the patients past medical history and travel history to understand from where the infection has been picked up followed by the following tests which include:
To look for antibodies in the blood that indicates the presence of the parasitic infection.
To examine the presence of tapeworm eggs and understand the extent of infection.
Imaging Techniques like CT-Scan, MRI-Scan and Ultrasound:
To check tapeworm infection and the presence of cysts in different body tissues and neural tissues.
Treatment options usually depend upon the exact type of parasite causing the infection and the extent of it within the body. In most cases, doctors prescribe corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory, anthelminthic, or anti-epileptic medications to eradiate both the worm and the eggs from the body cavities. In certain chronic situations, the doctor may also perform a shunt placement or a surgical procedure.