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    Several species of tapeworm can infect people. The two most common species are the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium) and the beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata). Improperly treated human sewage may be used to fertilize pastures or crops. Pigs or cattle become infected by grazing in contaminated pastures or drinking water contaminated with tapeworm eggs from human feces. The pea-sized larvae of these tapeworms are deposited in certain tissues of the body of infected pigs and cattle, including the muscles. The infection is then transmitted to people when raw or undercooked meat containing tapeworm larvae is consumed. The immature tapeworm develops into the adult form in the human intestine and may remain there for many years if not identified and treated.

    The Taenia tapeworms attach to the intestinal walls but cause only mild inflammation at the site of attachment. As a result, most tapeworm carriers show no symptoms (asymptomatic) and usually become aware of the infection only after noticing tapeworm segments in their feces. Segments of the beef tapeworm may spontaneously pass through the anus causing a noticeable sensation. Mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea or abdominal pain, can occur in infected individuals. In rare cases where the tapeworm segments migrate into the appendix, pancreas, or bile duct, there may be a sudden onset of severe abdominal discomfort.

    Cysticercosis is a potentially serious complication of Taenia solium infection in which the larvae develop outside the intestinal tract. This type of infection is less common and occurs following accidental consumption of tapeworm eggs released from the adult worm. These eggs initially are localized in the anal area, but they may also contaminate the fingers or other parts of the body. Infection can occur in the person harboring the adult tapeworm or in other people with whom that individual comes in contact. The tapeworm larvae may develop in various tissues throughout the body. The most serious clinical problems occur when the larvae develop in the central nervous system (neurocysticercosis), potentially causing seizures and other neurological problems. An important aspect of this type of infection is that poor hygiene on the part of the individuals harboring an adult tapeworm can lead to an infection in an individual who may never consume meat. This is a particular problem if infected individuals are employed as food handlers.

    Another important tapeworm that may infect people is the fish tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium latum). This is a frequent human intestinal parasite in many areas where raw freshwater fish is consumed. Human infection with the fish tapeworm is referred to as diphyllobothriasis. Feces from infected hosts or raw sewage contaminates a fresh water source. Tapeworm larvae are initially ingested by freshwater crustaceans and then are eaten by fish. Human infection occurs when a person consumes raw fish contaminated with the tapeworm larvae. Adult tapeworms then develop in the human intestinal tract.

    Most infections with the fish tapeworm are not associated with symptoms. The tapeworm causes little damage to the lining of the intestine. Infected individuals may report diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, or sensation of hunger more commonly than uninfected individuals. One problem unique to this tapeworm is that it may compete with the host for absorption of vitamin B12 from the small intestine, causing the person to become deficient in this vitamin and leading to a condition called pernicious anemia.

    Two smaller species of tapeworms may also infect people. The dwarf tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana) is a common infection throughout the world that can be passed from one person to another. Transmission is usually the result of inadvertent ingestion of tapeworm eggs from feces eliminated by infected individuals. As a result, infection with this tapeworm is encountered most frequently in children, the developmentally disabled, and psychiatric patient populations. Abdominal pain that is not localized to any particular area is the most common complaint. Patients may experience loose bowel movements or diarrhea with mucus, but bloody diarrhea is rare.

    Another small tapeworm capable of infecting people is the rodent tapeworm (Hymenolepis diminuta). Rats, mice, and other rodents are the usual hosts for the adult tapeworm (definitive host), but humans can become infected following accidental consumption of insects containing tapeworm larvae. Meal worms or grain beetles that infest cereal, flour, or dried fruit are the most likely source of infection. Most human infections are not associated with symptoms, although some individuals report headaches, anorexia, nausea, and diarrhea.

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.";

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