What is tapeworm?

Tapeworms are parasitic worms that live in the intestinal tracts of some animals. Certain species of these tapeworms can infect humans. People of all ages are susceptible to tapeworm infections. However, the infection is not often seen in Ireland, except in people who have been infected abroad.

How is tapeworm contracted?

The easiest way of contracting tapeworm is by eating raw or undercooked meat or fish that contains the tapeworm.

Tapeworm is most commonly found in developing countries where there are poor sanitary conditions, therefore if you are travelling to a developing country, you need to take extra precautions when it comes to food. Never eat raw or undercooked meat and fish.

The two most common species to infect people are the beef tapeworm and the pork tapeworm, so be extra careful when eating these particular meats. In developing countries, livestock such as beef and pigs may be become infected by grazing in contaminated pastures.

It is also possible to be indirectly infected by the ingestion of tapeworm eggs, which have been shed by an adult worm. This can lead to a condition known as cysticercosis.

Cysticercosis is a disease caused by the presence of certain tapeworm larvae in any of the body tissues. Their presence in the muscles can lead to pain and weakness. In the brain, the symptoms are more serious, for example mental deterioration, paralysis and convulsions.

What are the symptoms of tapeworm?

Many cases of tapeworm infection are asymptomatic (they show no symptoms). In such cases, the person may not know they are infected until they notice pieces of tapeworm in their faeces. Where symptoms do occur, they may include nausea, mild or abdominal pain or diarrhoea.

If a person is infected with the fish tapeworm, symptoms may include diarrhoea, weakness or fatigue.

How can I prevent tapeworm?

The easiest way of avoiding tapeworm infection is by ensuring meat and fish are from a reliable source. While this is easy in Ireland, extra precautions must be taken when travelling abroad, especially to developing countries.

Never eat raw or undercooked meat or fish when abroad. Ensure they are well cooked. If you are doing the cooking, there are precautions you can take, such as freezing meat and fish before cooking. Freezing fresh fish for 24 hours will kill the larval form of tapeworm.

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