Tapeworms can cause intestinal infections in people, and once they are in situ they require human hosts to live out their life cycle. A number of different species of tapeworm including from beef, pork and fish can cause infections. Tapeworms infect children through contact with contaminated feces found in water, soil or food. Children can become infected though eating undercooked or raw meat or fish that are infected with tapeworms. Contaminated food contains cysts of the parasite which are ingested into the child’s intestinal tract.
When a child eats a tapeworm cyst it survives in the stomach and releases larvae; the parasite grows within the child’s intestines to become an adult tapeworm which has up to 1,000 segments each of which contain up to 100,000 eggs. These segments break away from the adult tapeworm and travel out of the child in the child’s stool; this can sometimes be seen moving in the child’s stool or near their anus.
Tapeworm infection is often symptom free. When symptoms are present the can include
Your doctor will take a stool sample and test for eggs or worm segments. Not all infection with tapeworm involves the growth of an adult tapeworms and so does not present with the symptoms of detecting worm eggs or segments, however a blood test can identify antibodies indicating an infection.
Treatment is usually simple and your doctor will prescribe oral drugs often in a single dose. Drug treatment is very effective and can completely kill the parasite.
To reduce your child’s risk of developing tapeworm infections do not permit them to eat undercooked fresh water fish, beef or pork. Encourage good hygiene including regular hand washing especially after using the bathroom, playing in the dirt, and before eating. Only drink water you know is clean. Wash all food well before cooking.
In rare cases tapeworms can cause serious problem if newly hatched worms travel from the intestines into other organs such as the liver or brain. These worms form sacs called cysts which can stop the affected organ working properly. This only occurs with the eggs of a type of tapeworm found in pigs and can only happen if a child ingests a tiny bit of feces from an infected pig not from eating pork.
Cysts can be difficult to treat. Treatment may involve a long course of anti-worm medicine and possibly surgery to remove the cysts.