Cysticercosis is an
infection caused by the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium.
Infection occurs when the tapeworm larvae enter the body and form
cysticerci (SIS-tuh-sir-KEY) (cysts). When cysticerci are found in
the brain, the condition is called neurocysticercosis (NEW-row SIS-tuh-sir-KO-sis).
Where is cysticercosis
The tapeworm that
causes cysticercosis is found worldwide. Infection is found
most often in rural, developing countries with poor hygiene where
pigs are allowed to roam freely and eat human feces. This allows the
tapeworm infection to be completed and the cycle to continue.
Infection can occur, though rarely, if you have never traveled
outside of the United States. Taeniasis and cysticercosis are very
rare in Muslim countries where eating pork is forbidden.
How can I get
swallowing pork tapeworm eggs. Tapeworm eggs are passed in the bowel
movement of a person who is infected. These tapeworm eggs are spread
through food, water, or surfaces contaminated with feces. This can
happen by drinking contaminated water or food, or by putting
contaminated fingers to your mouth. A person who has a tapeworm
infection can reinfect themselves (autoinfection). Once inside the
stomach, the tapeworm egg hatches, penetrates the intestine, travels
through the bloodstream and may develop into cysticerci in the
muscles, brain, or eyes.
What are the signs and
symptoms of cysticercosis?
symptoms will depend on the location and number of cysticerci in
the muscles generally do not cause symptoms. However, you may be
able to feel lumps under your skin.
cysticerci may float in the eye and cause blurry or disturbed
vision. Infection in the eyes may cause swelling or detachment of
Neurocysticercosis (cysticerci in the brain, spinal cord):
neurocysticercosis depend upon where and how many cysticerci
(often called lesions) are found in the brain. Seizures, and
headaches are the most common symptoms. However, confusion, lack
of attention to people and surroundings, difficulty with balance,
swelling of the brain (called hydrocephalus) may also occur. Death
can occur suddenly with heavy infections.
How long will I be
infected before symptoms begin?
occur months to years after infection, usually when the cysts are in
the process of dying. When this happens, the brain can swell. The
pressure caused by swelling is what causes most of the symptoms of
neurocysticercosis. Most people with cysticerci in muscles won’t
have symptoms of infection.
How is cysticercosis
Diagnosis can be
difficult and may require several testing methods. Your health care
provider will ask you about where you have traveled and your eating
habits. Diagnosis of neurocysticercosis is usually made by MRI or CT
brain scans. Blood tests are available to help diagnose an
infection, but may not always be accurate. If surgery is necessary,
confirmation of the diagnosis can be made by the laboratory.