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How can a tapeworm get inside a person?


The tale of the tapeworm sounds pretty terrifying: one minute you're the host of a dinner party, the next thing you know you're the host of a tapeworm! So how can a person get into such a sticky situation? Well, it may help to learn more about what these creatures are.

Tapeworms are parasites that live inside the intestines of other animals, where they live a life of luxury bathed in food that gets absorbed through their skins. And a tapeworm's body is actually a chain, or colony, of segments that are connected. Each segment can reproduce on its own and is nearly a separate organism. However, they all work together and coordinate their muscle movements to keep the colony mobile. This colony is looped back and forth so that it can fit its long body into small spaces. Because of this accordion-style folding, a 33-foot-long tapeworm can live in the small intestine, which is 20-feet-long! 

In all likelihood, a tapeworm won't worm its way into your life if you like your fish, pork, or beef well-done. That's because you've cooked your meats long enough to kill any tapeworms that might be lurking in them. You run the risk of swallowing live tapeworm larvae if you like your meat on the raw side, however. 

There's definitely good news in the fact that adult tapeworms really don't do serious damage to their human hosts (although the mere thought of a big worm invading your intestines is enough to make you hurl your guts out)! And you can often trust your gut feelings on whether or not you have a tapeworm: tell-tale signs include diarrhea, nausea, weakness, a big bellyache, or just a hungry, gnawing sensation. Believe it or not, though, it is possible to have a tapeworm infection for many years without knowing it. Thanks to modern medicines and chemotherapy, however, there's no need to make tapeworms your partners for life.