Taeniasis is a neglected tropical disease caused by the ingestion of a parasitic tapeworm found in undercooked meat. There are two species of the worm that are capable of infecting humans: Taenia saginata, which is found in beef, and Taenia solium, found in pork. This type of disease falls under the category of helminth, or worm. This disease uses cattle and pigs as initial, intermediate hosts, but it is believed that this worm was brought about in humans via hyenas 2 million years ago and then given to the animals humans typically consume. While Taeniasis is worldwide and can be found anywhere raw meat is consumed, it has strongholds in underdeveloped areas of Eastern Europe, eastern Africa, and Latin America. It emerges occasionally in the United States as Latin American immigrants enter the country.
It is difficult for a person to tell when they are infected with the disease, as it does not directly cause significant symptoms. However, if these worms grow large enough in size, their presence will be evident. T. saginata can grow to be 10m in length, causing abdominal pain, upset stomach, and loss of appetite, with the main system targeted by this parasite being the digestive system. The most prevalent consequence of Taeniasis, however, is its implications in the development of cysticercosis. When a person swallows this worm’s eggs in their own feces or the feces of another person who was infected with the worm, they are then infected with this disease. This sort of infection leads to the buildup of cysts in the muscles, spinal cord, or brain. When in the central nervous system, symptoms include seizures, headaches, confusion, brain swelling, stroke, or death. When simply in the muscles, they protrude under the skin yet typically do not cause symptoms.
There are two drugs effective in treating taeniasis: Praziquantel and Niclosamide. Both of these diseases are anthelmintics: drugs that kill helminthes on contact. These are dangerous drugs and have many stipulations for taking them (pregnancy, allergies, heart problems, etc.) as well as side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and headache.
Since the taeniasis’s environment is worldwide, more developed countries have set laws in place to prevent the consumption of contaminated or undercooked meat. All meat is required by law in the United States to be inspected for cystsercercosis, and areas of grazing must be inspected for this kind of contamination. These foods then must be cooked sufficiently to prevent the spread of any sort of tapeworm. Once infected with the disease, people should practice good hygiene in order to prevent their tapeworm from eventually causing problems with the nervous system. Today, the area most affected by taeniasis is West Papua, a province of Indonesia. As this disease is neglected in its relevancy in tropical areas, there is little data showing just how prevalent taeniasis is in places like this. However, a study in the 70s showed that in a local hospital in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, about 9% of all stool samples taken at any given time contained eggs from this worm. Numbers have only risen since, as there has still been little awareness raised in the effort
to rid the planet of this worm.
This worm has a rather complex life cycle, being transported in and out of two different hosts. To start off, an oncosphere, a tapeworm embryo develops in the muscle of either a cow or a pig. A human then consumes that muscle and now a worm, Taenia saginata for a cow or Taenia solium for a pig, begins to mature in the small intestine. Male worms only live long enough to reproduce, while the female worms grow to full size, become gravid, or pregnant, and allow eggs to exit through the feces. The animals may then consume these eggs due to open-air defecation and develop cysts of oncospheres, thus starting the cycle anew. This neglected disease is extremely easy to prevent using ethical ways of meat preparation, however, there is little awareness of this going on in underdeveloped countries. If similar amounts of attention were paid to Taeniasis as they are to nearly eradicated diseases like Guinea worm, this disease drop off the map very quickly.