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A dog that could be infected with tapeworms.

A dog that could be infected with tapeworms.
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Tapeworm

Tapeworms can cause infection in people who drink contaminated water or eat undercooked meat from infected animals. This is called hydatid disease.

The infection in humans is usually easily treated but sometimes it can cause serious problems. In Australia, there is a risk of contracting hydatid disease from tapeworms in dog faeces. You should see your doctor if you have any signs of tapeworm infection.

Causes and risk factors of tapeworm

You can be infected with tapeworms by eating either the eggs, from contaminated animal faeces, or larvae, from raw or undercooked meat.

If you consume tapeworm eggs they can lead to cysts in other tissues or organs and cause life-threatening damage. If you consume tapeworm larvae they develop into adult tapeworms in your intestines and cause intestinal infection.

Intestinal tapeworm infections are usually mild. The type of tapeworm you have will depend on the meat that caused your infection.

Tapeworm symptoms

People with tapeworm infection often have no symptoms. If you have symptoms they’ll depend on the type of tapeworm and where it is in your body.

Intestinal tapeworm infection can cause:

  • nausea
  • weakness or tiredness
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach pain or loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

If you develop a complication you may have:

If you have hydatid disease, the tapeworm parasites have formed cysts in your liver, lungs or other organs, or bones.

Tapeworm treatment

Your doctor will ask for a stool sample and perhaps a blood test to confirm that you have tapeworms and what kind. You’ll probably be prescribed medicine to kill the tapeworms. If you have complications you may need other tests, medicine and perhaps surgery to remove the cysts.

Tapeworm prevention

You can reduce your risk of tapeworm infection by:

Sources:

WebMD (Tapeworms in humans), Mayo Clinic (Tapeworm infection - definition), SA Health (Hydatid disease – including symptoms, treatment and prevention)

Last reviewed: May 2017

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