Get a wiggle on and check out everything you never wanted to know about tapeworms...
1. What the heck are tapeworms?
Like something from the horror film Alien, a tapeworm (or cestoda) is a long, wiggly parasitic flatworm that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. Tapeworms can only live inside their host (sorry, but that’s you) and will die if they leave your body. Out! Out! Out! You’ll be glad to hear human tapeworm infections are rare in the UK and most commonly seen in developing countries. Global worming?
2. What do they do in your tummy?
Once these bad boys get inside you, they attach themselves to the lining of your intestine with their suckers and hooks and feast on all your lovely digested grub as it flows over them.
Tapeworms resist being destroyed by the body’s immune system or digestive juices. They also reproduce inside you, with their eggs developing into larvae, sometimes moving to other areas of the body such as the brain. Brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘ear worm’ – you know, when you can’t get a song out of your head…
3. How big can they grow?
They’re thought to be one of the oldest parasites known to humans and can vary dramatically in size with some growing up to – get ready for this – 30 feet!
4. How long do they live?
A tapeworm can live undetected inside you without causing any trouble for up to 30 years. That’s longer than a lot of marriages.
5. How do you catch them?
Tapeworms are often caught through eating raw or uncooked meat – usually pork, beef, or fish – that contains larvae. If the meat is cooked well, then the eggs get destroyed.
Water contaminated with infected animal poo is another easy way to catch Percy Parasite.
Poor personal hygiene can lead to infections, too. If a chef who has worms hasn’t washed his hands properly and then prepares food, he can pass on the infection. Sorry, you just having lunch..?
6. How do I know if I have a tapeworm?
Signs include stomach pains, vomiting, weakness and decreased appetite. Check your poo for signs of segments – they’ll look like grains of white rice. If found, seek medical advice for confirmation.
7. What harm can they do?
Generally, tapeworms don’t cause any long-term harm but, in very rare cases, they can be life-threatening. The larvae can cause cysts, which settle on your organs, causing them to swell and stopping their normal functions – this can lead to anaphylaxis. If they worm their way to your brain, then they can become very dangerous, affecting your central nervous system.
8. What’s the cure?
Once detected, tapeworms can be easily killed with medication, which works by dissolving, or attacking the beast within.
9. Hey – have you lost weight..?
After hearing all these gross facts, you’d think the last thing you’d want inside you would be a tapeworm… But there are some fools who think acquiring one can help them lose weight! They think they can eat and drink what they like while the little guest inside them picks up the bill by eating it all for them. Thanks, but think we’ll stick to Weight Watchers.