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Tapeworm In Children: Types, Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

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IN THIS ARTICLE

Tapeworm infection or taeniasis can be found in humans worldwide. Tapeworm infection is common in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa (1). If you suspect your child has a tapeworm infection, seek medical help and practice strict hand hygiene at home.

Neurocysticercosis, a disease caused by tapeworm eggs, is a common cause of epilepsy and accounts for approximately 30% of seizure cases in endemic areas (2).

Read this post to know more about the causes, types, signs, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of taeniasis or tapeworm infection in kids.

What Is A Tapeworm And How Does It Grow?

Tapeworms are parasitic intestinal worms.. They are flatworms that look like a long tape, and they live in the intestines of humans or animals. They are not capable of surviving outside the host.

Tapeworms can live for several years and grow more than 30 meters long. They grow by feeding on the nutrition from the hosts, thus causing nutritional deficiencies.

Kids can get tapeworm infection from food or water contaminated with a worm or its eggs. The parasite attaches itself to the lining of the intestine and feeds on blood that contains digested nutrients.

Tapeworms are made up of numerous segments, and each segmant can produce eggs. As the tapeworm grows, the lower segments break off and appear in feces.

The eggs and tapeworm segments from the feces of infected people can contaminate food and water. They may be present in the soil or water for months and transmit to humans or animals (3).

Types Of Tapeworms

The species of tapeworms that cause infection in humans are (4):

  • Taenia solium (pork tapeworm)
  • Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm)
  • Taenia asiatica (Asian tapeworm)
  • Hymenolepis nana (dwarf tapeworm)
  • Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm)
  • Echinococcus

 [Read: Deworming Children Naturally]

How Do Tapeworms Infect Kids?

Kids become infected with tapeworm from the following:

  • Consuming food or water contaminated with infected feces
  • From an infected person, if they have not washed hands after using the toilet
  • From contaminated objects for example, doorknobs
  • Eating undercooked or uncooked fish or meat from an infected animal
  • Eating without washing their hands after playing in contaminated soil or water

Signs And Symptoms Of Tapeworms In Children

Most kids with tapeworm are asymptomatic for months and years. However, some may develop signs and symptoms of tapeworm infection such as (5):

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Nausea
  4. Loss of appetite
  5. Weight loss
  6. Worms in feces or around the anus
  7. Anemia
    Cysts in the skin or in internal organs

[Read: Nausea In Children]

Complications

Complications due to  tapeworm infection may include (7):

  • Cysticercosis: Eggs of Tenia solium (pork tapeworm) can reach the bloodstream from the intestines. These can move to other parts of the body and form cysts in muscles, brain, eyes, or other organs. Cysticercosis is prevalent in places with poor sanitation and hygiene practices.

Cysts may cause symptoms depending on its location, including (7):

  • Muscles: Lumps under the skin
  • Heart: Abnormal heartbeat
  • Brain: Seizures, confusion, vision problems, headaches, meningitis, hydrocephalus, stroke
  • Spine: Weakness and difficulty in walking
  • Cysts may cause anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) if they are broken or damaged.

Other possible complications of tapeworm infections are (8):

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall bladder)
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Anemia

Brain infection caused by pork tapeworm eggs is known as neurocysticercosis. This can be fatal if left untreated. Echinococcus tapeworm causes hydatid disease (echinococcosis), which most commonly affects the liver. A large hydatid cyst can damage the liver and and cause other problems.

Note: You do not get cysticercosis from eating pork since the eggs are not found in meat. It generally happensafter consuming of food or water contaminated with feces that contain the tapeworm eggs.

                                                                                                [Read: Vomiting In Children]

When To See The Doctor

Although tapeworm infections usually do not cause any problems, you may need to see a doctor if your child shows signs and symptoms that are concerning.

Diagnosis Of Tapeworms In Children

The following are used to diagnose tapeworm infection (9):

  • Stool sample analysis to check for eggs and worm segments
  • CT or MRI scan for cysts
  • Blood tests to identify antibodies
  • Ultrasound of the liver

The doctor may also ask for samples after the treatment to ensure that the stool is free of eggs and segments.

[Read: Indigestion In Children]

Treatment For Intestinal Tapeworm In Children

Treatment is with antihelminthic agents that kill or paralyze the worms. Some of the effective drugs include (10):

  • Biltricide (Praziquantel)
  • Albenza (Albendazole)
  • Alinia (Nitazoxanide)
  • Mebendazole

These drugs are effective against adult worms but not the eggs. To prevent reinfectionit is important that your childashes their hands thoroughly before eating and after using the toilet. Over-the-counter treatments may not be effective and a prescription medication may be required.

Infections that occur in other organs, outside the intestine, may need other treatments in addition to antihelminthic therapy. The doctor may administer the following medications depending on the site and complications of the infections (11) (12):

  • Albendazole (Albenza) (antihelminthic medication) helps reduce the size of cysts. Ultrasound or radiographic imaging is done to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.
  • Niclosamide blocks glucose intake and could damage the metabolism in the tapeworm.
  • Prescription corticosteroid medications such as prednisone and dexamethasone may help to decrease inflammation of the tissue.
  • Anti-epileptic medication are given if neurocysticercosis causes seizures.
  • Hydrocephalus (excess fluid in the brain) caused by tapeworms may require shunting of fluid from the head using tubes to avoid complications.
  • SUrgical removal of the cysts may be done to remove cysts from the organs, the cavity is washed with anti-parasitic solutions to prevent reinfection.

It is important to follow the recommended treatment regime to avoid complications of the disease. Untreated infections may increase the risk of developing complications

[Read: Loss Of Appetite In Children]

How To Prevent Tapeworms In Children?

The following tips will help to prevent tapeworms in kids (13):

  • Wash hands with soap and water before eating and after using the toilet
  • Cook meat until well done
  • Freeze meat for 24 hours before cooking
  • Do not consume undercooked or uncooked fish or meat
  • Wash fruit and vegetables before eating
  • Avoid buying meat from vendors that lack strict regulations and farming practices.
  • Pet dogs may also get tapeworm infections. Deworm your dogs as recommended by the vet to reduce the risk

The following tips can be helpful if you are traveling to endemic areas:

  • Drink boiled or bottled water.
  • Avoid water fountains and ice cubes.
  • Do not consume fruits and vegetables peeled by others.

Home remedies, such as papaya seeds, garlic, pumpkin seeds, carrots, and berries have been used but the effectiveness of these remedies to cure or prevent tapeworm is not well studied in randomized control trials.

Teaching good hygiene practices to your child can reduce their risk of developing parasitic intestinal infections. You may encourage them and remind them to wash their hands before eating, after playing in soil, or after using the lavatory.

Do you have an experience to share? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

References:

1. Parasites – Taeniasis; Epidemiology & Risk Factors; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2. Awa Ba-Diop, et al.;  Epidemiology, causes, and treatment of epilepsy in sub-Saharan Africa; The Lancet Neurology (2017).
3. Digestive System – Tapeworm; Rady Childrens Hospital San Diego
4. Taeniasis/cysticercosis; transmission and burden; The World Health Organization
5. Taeniasis FAQs; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
6. Fish tapeworm infection; United States National Library of Medicine
7. Parasites-Cysticercosis; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
8. Ellen J. Lesh and Mark F. Brady; Tapeworm (Taenia Solium, Taenia Saginata, Diphyllobothrium, Cysticercosis, Neurocysticercosis); StatPearls Publishing (2020).
9. Taeniasis and Cysticercosis;  Investigative Guidelines; PUBLIC HEALTH DIVISION;  Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention
10. Ann E. Lloyd, et al.; Treatment Options and Considerations for Intestinal Helminthic Infections; Journal of Pharmacy Technology (2014).
11. Hector H. García, et al.; Current Consensus Guidelines for Treatment of Neurocysticercosis; Clinical Microbiology Reviews (2002).
12. Parasites-Cysticercosis;  Resources for Health Professionals; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
13. Tapeworm; healthdirect; Australian Government Department of Health

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