You may never look at a pig in the same way again if you develop cysticercosis after dining on pork in a foreign country. The pork tapeworm called Taenia solium is the source of the Cysticercosis infection. Your body becomes infected when you ingest the larvae from the pork tapeworm and these worms form cysts. If any cysts form in the brain, then the disease is called neurocysticercosis.
People rarely get this infection from the pork tapeworm in the United States and Muslim countries don’t normally have occurrences as they do not eat pork. However, developing countries with little in the way of sanitation and waste management practices and have roaming pigs that could potentially eat the excrement from humans are likely to have occurrences of cysticercosis with some frequency.
Symptoms of Cysticercosis
Tapeworm eggs are shed through the feces of humans. From there, the eggs could somehow contaminate food, drinking water or even dirty bathroom areas. You could accidentally touch something contaminated with the eggs and then put your fingers in your mouth and ingest them. Once these tapeworm eggs reach the stomach, they hatch and spread through the body via the bloodstream and get into the intestine or develop cysts in the brain, eyes or muscles.
When the tapeworm creates a cyst in the muscles, you will not likely experience any symptoms. However, you may feel bumps under the skin which are the cysts. In the eyes, a cyst from one of these pork tapeworms could impair vision by floating around. An infection could result as well causing a detached retina or general swelling.
A cyst in the brain has the potential to be quite serious. Headaches are common as are seizures. Swelling in the brain could occur as well. Many people experience general confusion, balance issues and attention deficit problems. Repeated infections from these cysts could cause death.
The baffling part is that the symptoms of cysticercosis may not manifest themselves for months or even years. Only when vision is impaired or symptoms of a cyst in the brain occur is diagnosis even a possibility. Blood tests are not always accurate so brain scans and MRIs are relied on, particularly for neurocysticercosis. Exploratory surgery may occur if definitive answers have not been found.
Treatment and Prevention of Cysticercosis
Anti-inflammatory drugs help with the swelling caused by the pork tapeworm while anti-parasitic drugs help kill the tapeworm and its eggs as well. As mentioned above, surgery may occur and may especially bring relief should drugs and other means do not alleviate the symptoms like swelling of the brain. Keep in mind that if you have these cysts in the muscles, you would likely not display any symptoms and therefore would not have treatment.
You can avoid contracting cysticercosis while traveling abroad by not eating undercooked pork products or even other meats. In addition, always wash your hands after bathroom breaks, particularly in rural areas and developing countries were sanitary conditions are not common. Also, do not handle any food without washing your hands.
Do not eat raw vegetables and fruits, only cooked. If the fruit or vegetable comes with a peel, wash it thoroughly first and then peel and eat it. Drink only bottled water with an unbroken seal and do not drink anything with ice cubes in it as they could have been made with contaminated water. Filter all of your water before drinking or chemically treat it first. Taking all of these precautions should keep you pretty healthy during your trip.