No matter how many times we talk about worm infestation, we can never run out of ideas! This is because worms are more dangerous than you can ever imagine; and in general, overall wellbeing is impossible if traces of worm infestation is present in the intestine. Of importance is the presence of tapeworm in the body. Physicians say that by the time the tapeworm grows into an adult in the human gut, it causes Taeniasis – an intestinal infection.Experts say Taeniasis is acquired by humans through the inadvertent ingestion of tapeworm larval cysts in undercooked pork or beef. Even if you take care to cook your beef or pork, the experts warn that touching other food items that you’re likely to eat raw such as fruits or ready-made foods such as bread could lead to the transfer of this worm’s larvae into your guts! “This underscores the importance of hand hygiene at all times, especially after you have handled raw meats,” says Family Physician, Dr. Gbola Ibrahim.
He explains that when someone mistakenly ingests the eggs (larvae) of this worm, the individual will develop cysticercosis – a parasitic tissue infection which physicians consider a serious disease. Again, this is why foods that we intend to eat without cooking, such as salad leaves and other vegetables, should be soaked in white vinegar-water solution for at least 10 minutes in order to kill worm larvae and make our vegetable or salad safe. If white vinegar is not available, nutritionists say, you could use salt-water solution; though white vinegar is considered optimal. Physicians say the tapeworm larvae can develop in a number of tissues such as the muscles, subcutaneous tissues (the third of the three layers of skin), eyes and brain; and that those that are located in the central nervous system can cause neurocysticercosis, the most severe form of the disease. “The symptoms of cysticercosis include abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation, nausea and vomiting, headache, lethargy, confusion, vision changes, weakness or numbness,” Ibrahim notes.
He adds that when left untreated, the infestation could lead to the involvement of other body tissues, which may result in swelling of the skeletal muscle (muscles that make movement possible), subcutaneous cysts (which may feel like large peas under the surface of the skin), and vision changes when the cysts infect the eyes. In potential complications of cysticercosis, symptoms may include stroke or, in extreme cases, death, scientists warn. This is not all. Would you know that this terrible worm can cause epileptic seizures if it is not expelled from the body by way of regular deworming? Ibrahim says by the time cysticercosis sets in and the cysts develop in the central nervous system, it can cause neurocysticercosis – the most severe form of the disease (cysticercosis) and one of the main preventable causes of epilepsy (seizures) in many developing countries such as ours.
Neurocysticercosis is present in about 70 per cent of cases, experts say; and symptoms may include chronic headaches, blindness, seizures (or epilepsy if they are recurrent), hydrocephalus (abnormal accumulation of water in the brain), meningitis, dementia and symptoms caused by lesions occupying spaces of the central nervous system. “This is not to say that anyone who has epileptic seizures should not see the doctor. Rather, the individual needs to see the doctor as a matter of urgency, because by that time, the problem has gone beyond the need for mere deworming. S/he needs more urgent and radical treatment if life must be saved,” Ibrahim warns. In fact, a World Health Organisation statistics reveal that more than 80 per cent of the world’s 50 million people who are affected by epilepsy live in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, many of which are endemic for pork tapeworm (Taenia solium) which can infect humans when they eat raw or undercooked pork.
Prevent tapeworm infestation
The prevention of cysticercosis can be achieved through various measures, including the following:
- Public education regarding the parasite and its route of transmission
- Avoidance of raw or undercooked pork in endemic areas
- Avoidance of potential introduction of poops into the mouth through routine hand washing, good personal hygiene, as well as through the proper handling and preparation of foods
- Meat inspection and the proper disposal of infected meat in endemic areas
- Improved sanitary measures for human waste disposal in endemic areas
- Screening contacts of infected individuals and instituting appropriate treatment
- Improved sanitation;
- Improved pig husbandry;
- Anthelmintic (deworming) treatment of pigs;
- Improved meat inspection, and processing of meat products.
- Developing a vaccine for the prevention of cysticercosis which may be used in the future; currently, there is no vaccine approved for use in humans, though there have been advances in vaccines being used in pigs