Tapeworm infections 

Introduction 

Humans can get a tapeworm infection by eating raw contaminated meat or fish 

Types of tapeworm

The tapeworms that most commonly infect humans include:

  • the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium)
  • the beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata)
  • the fish tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium latum)
  • the dwarf tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana)
  • the dog tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus)

Some types of tapeworm, such as the pork tapeworm and the dog tapeworm, can cause other illnesses. This happens when tapeworm larvae (newly hatched worms) settle in places outside a person's intestine.

A tapeworm is a parasite that can live in a person's intestines (bowel). They are known medically as cestodes.

Tapeworms tend to be flat, segmented and ribbon-like. Humans can catch them by:

  • touching contaminated faeces (stools) and then placing their hands near their mouth
  • swallowing food or water containing traces of contaminated faeces
  • eating raw contaminated pork, beef or fish

Read more about the causes of a tapeworm infection.

How do I know if I have a tapeworm?

You may not know you have a tapeworm infection until you see segments of the worm in your stools (poo). A tapeworm infection does not always cause symptoms, or the symptoms are often mistaken for another illness. A tapeworm infection typically causes stomach pain and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.

Read more information about the symptoms of a tapeworm infection.

See your GP if you think you notice segments of a tapeworm in your stools. They can diagnose an infection with a stool sample. Further tests may be needed depending on the type of tapeworm infection.

Read more about how tapeworm infections are diagnosed.

Treating tapeworm infections

If a tapeworm grows in your intestine, you will need treatment to get rid of it. Some adult worms grow to 4.5-9m (15-30 feet) in length.

The beef tapeworm lives only in your intestines and is easily treated with tablets.

However, infection with other tapeworms or tapeworm larvae can lead to serious complications. Larvae infections are more difficult to treat because the larvae settle in other parts of your body outside your intestines.

Read more information about treating tapeworm infections and complications of a tapeworm infection.

Preventing tapeworm infections

It is important to prepare food properly to avoid a tapeworm infection. Raw meat and fish in particular must be cooked and stored correctly. Vegetables and fruit should be washed thoroughly before they are eaten.

Your personal hygiene is even more important if you are in close contact with animals, or travelling in a developed country where tapeworm infections are more common.

Read more information about preventing tapeworm infections.

Who is affected

Tapeworm infections are most commonly seen in developing countries. In the UK, tapeworm infections in people are rare.




Page last reviewed: 22/05/2012

Next review due: 22/05/2014

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