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Cysticercosis

Cysticercosis is an infection by a parasite called Taenia solium (T. solium), a pork tapeworm, that creates cysts in different areas in the body.

See also: Teniasis

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Cysticercosis is caused by swallowing eggs from T. solium, which are found in contaminated food. Autoinfection is when a person is already infected with adult T. solium, then swallows eggs following improper hand washing after a bowel movement.

    Risk factors include eating pork, fruits, and vegetables contaminated with T. solium as a result of unhealthy cooking preparation. The disease can also be spread by contact with infected people or fecal matter.

    The disease is rare in the United States, but is common in many developing countries.

  • Symptoms

    Most often, the worms stay in muscles and do not cause symptoms.

    Symptoms that do occur depend on where the infection is found:

    • Brain lesions can result in seizures or symptoms similar to those of a brain tumor.
    • Eye lesions can cause decreased vision or blindness.
    • Heart lesions can lead to abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure (rare).
    • Spine lesions can lead to weakness or changes in walking.
  • Signs and tests

    Tests that may be done include:

    • Blood tests to detect antibodies to the parasite
    • Biopsy of the affected area
    • CT scan, MRI scan, or x-rays to detect the lesion
  • Treatment

    Treatment may involve:

    • Medications to kill the parasites (antiparasitic treatments)
    • Powerful anti-inflammatories (steroids) to reduce swelling

    If the cyst is in the eye or the brain, steroids may be started a few days before other medicines to avoid problems caused by swelling during antiparasitic treatment.

    Sometimes surgery may be needed to remove the infected area.

  • Expectations (prognosis)

    The outlook is generally good, unless the lesion has caused blindness, heart failure, or brain damage. These are rare complications.

  • Complications
    • Blindness, decreased vision
    • Heart failure or abnormal rhythm
    • Seizures, increased pressure in the brain
  • Calling your health care provider

    If you have any symptoms of cysticercosis, contact your health care provider.

  • Prevention

    Avoid unclean foods, don't eat uncooked foods while traveling, and always wash fruits and vegetables well.

Review Date: 1/22/2008

Reviewed By: Kenneth M. Wener, MD, Department of Infectious Diseases, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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