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A tapeworm is a parasite that can infect the intestinal tract of humans. The infection is often caused by eating raw or undercooked beef or pork that is contaminated with the parasite. Tapeworms can have no symptoms, but in some cases, infection with a tapeworm can lead to serious health complications. Medically, a tapeworm infection is known as taeniasis.

Symptoms of Tapeworm

Some people with a tapeworm may not even know that they have one. Occasionally, however, it will cause digestive symptoms like an upset stomach, loss of appetite, weight loss and abdominal pain. Segments of the tapeworm may also be passed in the stool as a telltale sign of infection. In rare instances, a certain breed of tapeworm can cause a severe health complication known as cysticercosis. This can cause muscle damage, eye damage and seizures.

Prevention and Treatment

Tapeworms are rare in the United States. They tend to be more common in less developed parts of the world where food handling practices are not as sanitary. The best practice for preventing a tapeworm infection is simply to cook raw meat to its proper temperature prior to consumption. For whole cuts of beef or pork, this means 145 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the meat, followed by a three-minute rest period. For ground meat, the meat should be cooked to 160 degrees. A meat thermometer can help monitor this when cooking meat.

Since a tapeworm infection is often difficult to detect, it’s best to be on the lookout for anything unusual in the stool that might be a tapeworm segment. Doctors can easily diagnose a tapeworm with a stool sample, and then the infection is treated with drugs called praziquantel or niclosamide.

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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