Cysticercosis, or pork tapeworm infection, can be contracted by anyone who eats undercooked or raw pork, which subsequently contains tapeworm (fin) larvae. Tapeworm infestation goes unnoticed; only in a few cases does the infection actually lead to symptoms.
What is cysticercosis?
Cysticercosis or infection by the pork tapeworm is also known as so-called taeniasis. This is because tapeworms, such as the beef tapeworm or pork tapeworm, belong to the Taenia genus. The pork tapeworm is called Taenia solium and the beef tapeworm Taenia saginata. Tapeworms are parasites. They need a host to survive. For lafora disease definition and meaning, please visit howsmb.com.
The pork tapeworms (so-called flatworms) live in the intestine and can reach a size of several meters in addition to a few millimeters. The tapeworm goes through a certain cycle, whereby – depending on the stage of development – a change of host is carried out. The tapeworm’s intermediate host is the pig; the final host is usually humans, even if the tapeworm can also use humans as intermediate hosts. During this stage, severe symptoms can occur that require immediate medical attention.
The cause lies mainly in the fact of eating undercooked or raw pork, which contained tapeworm larvae. The transmission path of the tapeworm is related to its life cycle; this is how the tapeworm normally infects pigs and humans, so that an alternating change of host can occur.
The origin of the tapeworm – from eating raw pork or pork that has not been heated enough – begins with the fact that the fins get into the human intestine. After that, the worm’s head develops from the head system. The latter attaches itself to the intestinal wall with the hook ring. After this, the maturation of the worm begins. It can take several weeks for all the link chains to grow fully.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Although the infestation can go unnoticed for years, there are definitely symptoms that can occur. Those affected often complain of loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weight loss and anemia (low blood count). In many cases, those affected also reported severe itching of the anus.
If there is a severe infestation, or if the human being is seen as an intermediate host and classic cysticercosis occurs, seizures, headaches or even dizziness can sometimes occur. In a few cases, patients suffer from visual disturbances, hydrocephalus (water on the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the meninges). Damage to the heart muscle and skeletal muscles rarely occurs. Those symptoms should by no means be underestimated; the patient requires immediate medical attention.
Diagnosis & course of disease
If cysticercosis is suspected, the doctor will take a stool sample. A microscope can be used to determine whether tapeworm eggs are present in the stool. The proglottids – limbs of the worm – can only be detected if they have already disintegrated in the intestine. Immunofluorescence and ELISA are two other techniques that can be used in the diagnosis.
The physicians and laboratory staff begin by identifying the worm particles (antigens), which can be triggered and detected as a classic reaction of the human immune system, as well as antibodies, which are also formed as a reaction. Indirect indications can be calcifications in the tissue, which are very difficult to see on X-rays. If physicians actually recognize “calcifications” on the X-ray image, then it is the fins of cysticercosis that have been deposited.
As a rule, the disease takes a relatively uncomplicated course. It should be noted that such a disease occurs only rarely; above all because in Central Europe people generally do without raw or insufficiently heated pork consumption. However, it becomes dangerous when the larvae continue to develop. In the context of cysticercosis, larvae can attack muscle tissue, the eyes or the brain. In those cases, the person concerned must be treated quickly and effectively so that any further consequential damage can be prevented.
When should you go to the doctor?
Basically, the consumption of raw meat is associated with a risk. Pork, in particular, should not be eaten raw. However, if this happens regularly, the risks of health impairments increase. A doctor is needed as soon as physical changes creep in. Loss of appetite, nausea or weight loss are indications of the presence of a disease.
In case of vomiting, a decrease in physical performance, as well as internal weakness, a doctor should be consulted. A pale appearance, low blood pressure and insomnia indicate an existing health irregularity. If the symptoms persist or increase in intensity, a doctor’s visit is necessary. If there is itching in the anus, this is to be understood as an alarm signal from the organism. In particular, with an increase in itching with the development of open wounds, a doctor is needed.
If you experience headaches or vision problems, you should be concerned. In the event of irregularities in the heart rhythm or dizziness, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. Many of those affected do not experience symptoms until later. The disease often goes unnoticed for many years, since the diffuse health impairments are usually not very severe. Nevertheless, if there are any irregularities, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
Treatment & Therapy
The pork tapeworm plays the main role in the therapy. The focus is that the worm is removed. Active ingredients such as praziquantel or niclosamide are prescribed; those active ingredients are intended to cause the worms to be killed. Sometimes the worms can also become “paralyzed”, making it impossible for them to “hold onto” the intestines. The worms are then excreted in the bowel movement.
The duration and success of the therapy depend on the extent to which the disease has progressed. However, the patient must reckon with the fact that the therapy can take several weeks. As a result of the therapy, a relatively large number of pork tapeworm antigens are released. Antigens are nothing more than components to which the human immune system reacts. Sometimes those affected complain about hypersensitivity reactions or enormous side effects, which can be stressful, especially at the beginning of therapy.
For this reason, doctors also administer cortisone, so that the body’s defense reaction is dampened. However, if it is determined that humans are nothing more than an intermediate host, the worm can also encapsulate itself in nerve tissue. If cysticercosis is present, a multi -day praziquantel therapy must be administered.
It is important that the consumption of raw or insufficiently heated pork is avoided. This is the only way to prevent cysticercosis.
Those affected with cysticercosis usually only have a few and only limited measures of direct aftercare available. For this reason, those affected by this disease should first and foremost consult a doctor and also initiate treatment in order to prevent the occurrence of further complications and symptoms.
It cannot heal on its own, so a visit to a doctor is always necessary for this disease. Most people affected by cysticercosis depend on taking various medications. It is always important to ensure that the dosage is correct and that it is taken regularly in order to counteract the symptoms properly and permanently. Regular check-ups with a doctor are also very important.
Questions, ambiguities or side effects should be clarified professionally in order to avoid the development of further complaints. Some of those affected also depend on the help and care of their own families during treatment. The attention sometimes prevents the onset of depression and other mental upsets. As a rule, the disease can be cured well and does not reduce the life expectancy of the person affected. However, the further course depends heavily on the time of diagnosis.
You can do that yourself
In many cases, cysticercosis is asymptomatic. Treatment is necessary if the typical symptoms such as dizziness, headache or vomiting occur. If complications such as visual problems or nerve disorders occur, medical advice is required.
In most cases, patients can support recovery by taking enough rest. Bed rest is particularly important during the peak phase of the disease, when fever and other physical symptoms can occur. During this period, patients should also drink plenty of fluids and eat gently. To avoid transmission of the tapeworm, contact with other people should be limited. It applies drug treatment with anthelminticsand closely monitor corticosteroids. The doctor should be informed immediately if unusual symptoms occur. If possible, the causative pork must be identified and presented to the doctor for laboratory testing.
Cysticercosis should usually subside within a few days. The use of home remedies such as cooling pads or medicinal herbs can support recovery. In order to avoid side effects, these measures should be discussed with the responsible doctor beforehand. The doctor will primarily recommend rest and rest, accompanied by taking the prescribed medication.