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To avoid getting a pork tapeworm, you should never eat raw pork or any meat from pigs that has not been thoroughly cooked. Developing countries have the highest incidence of pork tapeworm infection, so wash your hands frequently when traveling and avoid drinking local, untreated water. Be aware that surfaces and dirt may be contaminated with tapeworm eggs.
Avoid eating uncooked pork or undercooked pork; that is, meat from pigs that has not been cooked to a temperature higher than 140°F (60°C). Freezing pork will also kill tapeworm eggs, but only if the meat is frozen for a minimum of 24 hours to a temperature lower than -4°F (-20°C). After handling raw meat, always wash your hands thoroughly and clean all cooking surfaces and utensils.
Pork tapeworm infection is more common in developing and rural countries, particularly in parts of Africa, Asia and Central and South America, than in developed countries. In developing areas, sanitation is often poor, and free-ranging pigs eat human fecal matter, thereby furthering the cycle of infection. Water supplies may be contaminated with tapeworm eggs as well. While traveling, it's important to drink only treated or bottled water and to thoroughly and regularly wash your hands with soap.
There are two types of pork tapeworm infection. The first, taeniasis, is when a person's intestines are infested with adult tapeworms. The second, cysticercosis, is when tissues throughout a person's body are infested with larval tapeworms, which take the form of cysts. Eggs and larvae sometimes spread throughout the body, resulting in cysticercosis that can take hold in a person's brain, muscle tissue or eyes.
Symptoms of tapeworms depend on whether a person has taeniasis or cysticercosis. Signs of taeniasis aren't always obvious but may include weight loss and abdominal pain. Cysticercosis symptoms depend on the area of the body where the cysts have lodged. If cysts are present in the brain, the most dangerous form of the infection, symptoms may include headaches, seizures and loss of balance. Cysticercosis in muscles may be detected by lumpiness in the tissue, and if infection is present in the eyes, symptoms may include blurred vision and visible cysts in eye tissue.
Treating a pork tapeworm is accomplished with medicines such as praziquantel if a person's intestines are infested with adult worms. When taking medicines that kill adult tapeworms, patients should be aware that the drugs don't kill tapeworm eggs, and patients should practice good hygiene to avoid reinfection. A wide range of treatments are available for cysticercosis, including anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce inflammation and medicines that help reduce the size of larval cysts. Because of the threat of organ damage, surgery may be recommended to remove cysts, but only if such removal is possible.
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