- Pork tapeworm infection
- Known medically as cysticercosis, an infection caused by Taenia solium (the pork tapeworm). Infection occurs when the tapeworm larvae enter the body and form cysticerci (SIS-tuh-sir-KEY) (cysts). When cysticerci are found in the brain, the condition is called neurocysticercosis (NEW-row SIS-tuh-sir-KO-sis). The tapeworm that causes cysticercosis is found worldwide. Infection is found most often in rural, developing countries with poor hygiene where pigs are allowed to roam freely and eat human feces. This allows the tapeworm infection to be completed and the cycle to continue. Infection can occur, though rarely, if you have never traveled outside of the United States. Taeniasis and cysticercosis are very rare in Muslim countries where eating pork is forbidden. Cysticercosis is contracted by accidentally swallowing pork tapeworm eggs. Tapeworm eggs are passed in the bowel movement of a person who is infected. These tapeworm eggs are spread through food, water, or surfaces contaminated with feces. This can happen by drinking contaminated water or food, or by putting contaminated fingers to your mouth. A person who has a tapeworm infection can reinfect themselves (autoinfection). Once inside the stomach, the tapeworm egg hatches, penetrates the intestine, travels through the bloodstream and may develop into cysticerci in the muscles, brain, or eyes. The signs and symptoms of the disease depend on the location and number of cysticerci in the body. Cysticerci in the muscles: Cysticerci in the muscles generally do not cause symptoms. However, you may be able to feel lumps under your skin. Cysticerci in the eyes: Although rare, cysticerci may float in the eye and cause blurry or disturbed vision. Infection in the eyes may cause swelling or detachment of the retina. Cysticerci in the brain or spinal cord (neurocysticercosis): Symptoms of neurocysticercosis depend upon where and how many cysticerci (often called lesions) are found in the brain. Seizures, and headaches are the most common symptoms. However, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, difficulty with balance, swelling of the brain (called hydrocephalus) may also occur. Death can occur suddenly with heavy infections. Symptoms can occur months to years after infection, usually when the cysts are in the process of dying. When this happens, the brain can swell. The pressure caused by swelling is what causes most of the symptoms of neurocysticercosis. Most people with cysticerci in muscles won’t have symptoms of infection. Diagnosis can be difficult and may require several testing methods. The health care provider will usually ask about where the patient has traveled and their eating habits. Diagnosis of neurocysticercosis is usually made by MRI or CT brain scans. Blood tests are available to help diagnose an infection, but may not always be accurate. If surgery is necessary, confirmation of the diagnosis can be made by the laboratory.
Medical dictionary. 2011.