The Ugly World of Tapeworms

Tapeworms — the very definition of disgusting.

Think a long, flat, wiggly ribbon that lives inside you and attaches to your intestinal walls, sometimes coming out in your poop. Yum.

The really sneaky thing about tapeworms is that they are fairly undetectable. You can have them for a long time and not realize it because you’re not presenting any symptoms. However, in some rare cases, tapeworms can lead to some very serious issues for your brain, liver, and other areas.

Although there are more than 1,5000 kinds of tapeworms, there are six kinds of tapeworms that have been shown to infect people. There are three kinds that are more common and can be found in the Americas — beef tapeworms, pork tapeworms and fish tapeworms. Beef tapeworms are the most widespread in North America, and these little suckers can grow up to 65 feet long. They generally only reside in cows and humans, and can only multiply in humans. Pork tapeworms are much smaller, only about a half inch long, and live inside humans and pigs. Fish tapeworms are the incredible culprits, averaging 30 feet, but able to get up to 100 feet long. These guys can get into dogs, cats, bears, seals, weasels, and of course, humans.

Tapeworms are parasitic creatures, meaning they need a host to survive. Their heads have sharp little hooks that enable them to latch onto intestinal tissues. If the head is attached, the tapeworm can produce eggs that then travel around the body. These eggs can get into the muscle of the host, which is how people and other animals get infected from eating undercooked or raw meat. The other way to get infected is through another person. If an infected person doesn’t wash their hands after defecating, and then prepares food, woe is whoever consumes that dish.

There are many symptoms for tapeworm, but they are common to so many other health issues that diagnosis is very difficult without the worm segments coming out of you. The proof is in the poop. Some common signs are diarrhea, nauseam abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, malnutrition, and in severe cases, seizures and neurological damage.

If the worms are not found in your bowel movements, then a blood test can often show antibodies that your body produces to fight the infection. If the side effects are severe, a doctor may order a CT or an MRI to check for damages near the digestive track. For 95% of tapeworm cases, an oral dose of medication will kill the tapeworms and allow them to pass through you. You may experience some cramping if the worms have grown to a large size. Colon cleansing with herbs is a holistic cure that seems to work pretty well.

To help prevent a dreaded tapeworm infection, be wary of raw fish or meat, and try to freeze fish for 24 hours before cooking, and meat for 12 hours. Wash your hands frequently — before and after handling meat or fish, and always after using the toilet. When you are traveling in countries with lower health regulations, as an extra precaution, cook fruits and vegetables before eating them.

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