Childhood Diseases

21 January 2011

Tapeworms a serious health threat

With children dying every year in rural aread from tapeworm infestation, parents need to take preventative steps.


Tapeworm infection is a parasitic infection, which humans can contract by eating raw or not well-cooked pork, which is contaminated with tapeworm cysts.

Generally pigs that roam free in rural areas, easily contract these cysts, because they often eat human waste. This is the main cause of the cycle of tapeworm infection between pigs and humans.

How is it transmitted?
People infected with tapeworm, can contaminate others through direct contact after having used the toilet. They can contaminate their hands, their food and their utensils in this manner. It can easily happen that they swallow the tapeworm eggs, once this contamination has taken place.

ntimate contact and food preparation can also spread tapeworm eggs from one person to another.

How dangerous is it?
Tapeworm is a very dangerous parasitic infection, and can cause serious problems. Once a person gets infected with this parasite, the larvae go through the blood vessels, and can get to the eyes, brain and the spinal cord too.

It also causes headaches, seizures, paralysis, blindness and, in some cases, death.

How can it be prevented?
It is very important to ensure that pork is cooked thoroughly, to avoid contracting the illness.

“Tapeworm-related diseases can be prevented by sanitation, basic hygiene practices (regular washing of hands is recommended, especially after using the toilet, and before handling food), keeping pigs enclosed, and not eating raw or lightly cooked meat,” said Doctor John Fincham, of the Medical Research Council’s Nutritional Intervention Research Unit.

People who have herds of pigs, have to make sure that they take great care in overseeing what the pigs eat, and the conditions under which they live.

(Edgar do Nascimento, Health24, October 2005)


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Prof Eugene Weinberg worked in the Paediatrics Department of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital for many years. He is presently a paediatric allergist at the Allergy Diagnostic Unit of the UCT Lung Institute in Mowbray.

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