The probability of contracting bovine tapeworm infection in Europe is relatively low. It is estimated that around 1.5% of cattle are infested with the parasite. A much higher risk of infection exists in the Middle East and in sub-Saharan Africa. There are estimates of 18% to 80% of infected cattle.
What Is Beef Tapeworm Infection?
The beef tapeworm is a parasite that lives in the intestines of animals and humans and belongs to the group of tapeworms. It grows up to 10 meters long and is clearly articulated. It produces about 400 mature links monthly, each containing up to 100,000 eggs. It sheds the mature limbs in groups every day. They show a clear movement of their own and can actively leave the host. For infectious diseases guide, please visit deluxesurveillance.com.
As an intermediate host he needs the cattle. The eggs are ingested by the animals when they eat. In the gastrointestinal tract of cattle, the egg shells dissolve, the worm embryos bore through the wall of the small intestine and migrate with the blood to the muscles. There they establish themselves. They then need humans as hosts for further development.
When it comes to the causes of an infection with the beef tapeworm, one must first differentiate between the pathogen and the transmission route. As already mentioned, the pathogens are the larvae (fins) of the beef tapeworm. These can be found in the muscle tissue, i.e. the meat of the cattle, and can be consumed by humans.
The route of transmission from cattle to humans is as follows: the cattle eat grass which may be contaminated with cattle tapeworm eggs from cow dung. The larvae then hatch in the small intestine of the cattle and bore through the intestinal wall into the blood vessels. This is how they get into the muscles. Here they form fins, which grow into sexually mature tapeworms and lay eggs. These eggs are then shed by the cow or beef. So the cycle starts all over again.
If untested beef is put on the market, humans can become infected with the beef tapeworm. This usually happens with Hackepeter or minced meat, since the meat is raw here. Boiled or roasted meat is less susceptible to beef tapeworm, since all the fins are usually killed by the heat.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Beef tapeworm larvae develop in the small intestine of cattle. They penetrate the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream. So-called fins are formed in the muscles. However, cattle can only be regarded as the intermediate host of the tapeworm. The beef tapeworm enters the human intestinal tract through the consumption of undercooked beef. The consumption of raw ground beef is particularly dangerous.
Overaged and undercooked meat can also be affected. In the intestine, the tapeworm attaches itself to the intestinal wall. Beef tapeworms can grow up to ten meters in length. The disease is largely symptom-free. Itching in the anal region occurs, presumably due to the excretion of the worm eggs. Some sufferers think they can perceive the movements of the tapeworm in the abdomen.
The beef tapeworm seems to be actively “working” particularly in the region around the navel. Indigestion, loss of appetite and nausea may occur. Those affected feel weak and powerless and lose weight. If the beef tapeworm remains undetected, it can stay in the human intestine for up to 40 years. Appendicitis or intestinal obstruction can occur as a result of undetected beef tapeworm infestation.
Diagnosis & History
The clinical picture of a bovine tapeworm infection is inconsistent. It ranges from headaches and itching in the anus area to loss of appetite and weight loss. Some people suffer from cramping abdominal pains, others from general weakness or extreme tiredness.
Dizziness can also occur. Frequent nausea and vomiting can also be a sign of beef tapeworm infection. It usually takes four to ten weeks from the ingestion of the worm eggs to the onset of the infection.
The disease is usually not life-threatening. Very rarely, beef tapeworm infection can lead to acute appendicitis, gallbladder infection, or pancreatitis.
Most sufferers tend to see a doctor because of a general feeling of being unwell, which makes diagnosis difficult initially.
A diagnosis based solely on symptoms is not possible. Even a blood test usually does not result in meaningful values. Therefore, to determine whether a beef tapeworm infection is present, it is absolutely necessary to examine a stool sample. Beef tapeworm eggs can then be distinguished from other worm eggs under the microscope.
In most cases, beef tapeworm infection can be treated relatively easily. Complications only occur if the disease is not treated and can spread throughout the body. The patients primarily suffer from itching in the anus. Pain in the abdomen or stomach can also occur and have a very negative effect on the patient’s quality of life.
Most of those affected suffer from digestive disorders and sometimes a loss of appetite due to the beef tapeworm infection. There is weight loss and nausea. A general weakness and exhaustion also occurs with this disease. In the further course, the beef tapeworm infection can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder or appendix. The pancreas can also become inflamed, and in the worst case, this inflammation can lead to death.
Beef tapeworm infection can be treated with medication and leads to a positive course of the disease relatively quickly. Complications do not occur and the symptoms can be completely alleviated with the help of the treatment. As a rule, the life expectancy of the patient is not negatively affected by a beef tapeworm infection.
When should you go to the doctor?
Symptoms such as indigestion, weight loss and general weakness are indicative of beef tapeworm infection. A doctor’s visit is necessary if the symptoms persist or increase in intensity. If eggs are noticed in the stool, a doctor must be consulted immediately. If you suspect an intestinal obstruction or appendicitis, call the emergency services. This is a medical emergency that can be fatal if left untreated. Beef tapeworm infection is treated by an internist or urologist. If this happens early, the condition can be cured without major complications.
If left untreated, serious symptoms such as ileus can occur. Therefore, the first signs of worm disease must be examined, especially if the symptoms appear after eating raw or undercooked beef. Symptoms appear three to four months after ingestion of the worm larvae. If health problems occur during this period, the urologist must clarify the cause using a stool sample and, if necessary, begin treatment.
Treatment & Therapy
Once diagnosed, treating beef tapeworm infection is straightforward. Usually, a single intake of tablets, so-called antihelminthics, is sufficient.
The number of tablets depends on the age of the patient. The standard medications for beef tapeworm infection are niclosamide, parziquantel, or mebendazole.
In order to interrupt the animal-human cycle, it is necessary to take a closer look at the distribution path. The first question in this context is: How does the worm egg get from the excrement to the not yet infected cow pasture?
The discharge of untreated or poorly treated sewage into streams or rivers can be named as the main way of spreading. If the waters burst their banks after heavy rainfall, meadows and pastures are contaminated. The eggs remain viable in meadows for up to 160 days.
Even simply watering pastures or watering animals from a stream can become a risk.
The second question is: how does the individual prevent ingestion of viable tapeworm eggs? When meat is heated to 70 degrees Celsius, the worm eggs die within a few minutes. The risk of contracting beef tapeworm infection is greatest from eating raw or undercooked meat.
Cold also kills the eggs. Meat that is stored at at least -18 degrees Celsius is considered safe. Hygiene in the kitchen also helps prevent beef tapeworm infection. Those who wash off all utensils in hot water after preparing beef and don’t forget to wash their hands thoroughly are the best way to protect themselves and others.
Although beef tapeworm infections no longer occur too frequently in our latitudes, knowledge of the infection, course and treatment is still valuable.
Anyone who notices changes in themselves a few weeks after a holiday or business trip that remind them of what they have read here may find their way to a doctor more quickly.
Follow-up care for a beef tapeworm infection is primarily focused on the effects of the disease itself. This often goes unnoticed for a long time and can therefore have triggered a variety of symptoms and cause gastrointestinal complaints. Since the acute treatment is with wormers, there is no need to resort to other medications in the aftercare.
The tapeworm is said to have been completely removed from the patient’s body. Follow-up is performed by a gastroenterologist. Here it is ensured that the tapeworm and its eggs are no longer present and that no new infection can develop.
If there were complications from the beef tapeworm infection, such as appendicitis or an intestinal blockage, these effects of the operation and any longer-lasting restrictions in the gastrointestinal tract must be taken into account and observed during aftercare. Another important pillar in aftercare is the education of the patient, here information is given about the routes of infection and any necessary hygienic conditions.
If the disease of the beef tapeworm infection has completely healed itself and the pathogen has not been detected in the controls for a long time, no further special follow-up care is required. Permanent limitations in the patient’s everyday life are also not to be expected.
You can do that yourself
As soon as this infection, which is rare in this country, has been diagnosed, it can be cured quickly. The doctor treating you, usually a urologist or internist, will prescribe the necessary medication.
Depending on how long the beef tapeworm has been in the intestines, unwanted weight loss may have occurred during this time. Since the patients quickly feel well again after the treatment, this weight loss can be easily compensated for. However, patients should be careful not to eat too sweet or too fat. Fresh, vitamin-rich food is advisable.
Patients who have been infected with beef tapeworm should either change their meat supplier or make sure they only eat well-cooked beef in the future. It should have been heated at seventy degrees or more for at least a few minutes to destroy the tapeworm’s fins. Beef tapeworm infection can be avoided even if the beef has been deep-frozen at a temperature of at least minus eighteen degrees for at least ten days. This not only applies to steaks and roasts, but also to ground beef. Raw beef such as carpaccio or tartar should be avoided.
The affected patients may suffer from persistent disgust after the diagnosis, which negatively affects the otherwise positive body image. Brief psychotherapeutic therapy can help you.