Cysticercosis: what is it and what is the cause? See the treatment

What is Cysticercosis

Cysticercosis is a disease caused by the eggs of the platinum worm Taenia solium and occurs when a person eats food or water contaminated by them. Three days after eating the eggs, they become larvae that fall into the bloodstream and can lodge in various parts of the body such as muscles, brain, lungs, eyes and heart.

Many people confuse cysticercosis with teniasis, as they are caused by the same worm. But the two diseases are distinct, since cysticercosis occurs due to the ingestion of Taenia solium eggs and, teniasis, occurs due to the presence of the adult form of Taenia solium or Taenia saginata in the small intestine of its host.

What Causes Cysticercosis?

The disease is caused by the presence of Taenia solium eggs in our stomach, eaten through poorly washed food, contaminated water or pork that has not been properly prepared.

After ingested, in three days these eggs turn into larvae (popularly called canjiquinha) and, through the gastric mucosa of the stomach, fall into the bloodstream and are distributed throughout the body, being able to lodge in various parts of it.

The life cycle of Cysticercosis

The areas with the most cases of cysticercosis are Latin America, Asia and Africa and it is more frequent in places that have loose animals and that have direct contact with human feces. This is all because these animals, usually pigs, are part of the life cycle of the disease.

The cycle of this worms takes place, basically in 8 stages:

  1. Taenia solium eggs in the environment, contaminating soil and water.
  2. The pig, the intermediate host of the disease, ingests the eggs through what is contaminated.
  3. The eggs, already installed in the stomach, break and their larvae fall into the animal’s bloodstream.
  4. Some larvae settle in the meat of the pig.
  5. Man, the definitive host, ingests these larvae through the consumption of contaminated meat.
  6. Once in the intestine of man, the larvae become adult tapeworms, which release a large amount of eggs in their host’s organism.
  7. These eggs self-fertilize and some are eliminated at the time of evacuation.
  8. As the eggs have been eliminated, they end up falling into the environment again, restarting the cycle.

What places on the body do Cysticercosis occur?

As the larvae are distributed throughout the body through the blood, they can lodge wherever they please. But the regions most affected are:

  • Muscles;
  • Heart;
  • Eyes;
  • Skin;
  • Brain.

When cysticerci lodge in the human brain, the disease is called neurocysticercosis, one of the most serious stages of cysticercosis.

Can Cysticercosis be transmitted from person to person?

The disease itself is not transmitted from one person to another, but what can be transmitted are the tapeworm eggs, which end up causing cysticercosis in the future.

People with teniasis, which can be either the pig or the man, eliminate eggs through their feces and, accidentally, humans may end up ingesting them through food planted in contaminated soil, for example.

Another form of contagion occurs between people who live in the same house as someone infected, because if that person does not wash their hands well after the evacuation and, soon after, is going to make the family meal, for example, the eggs can be transmitted through that procedure.

The transmission of cysticerci can happen through these three mechanisms below:

External autoinfection

Contamination is given through the ingestion of the tapeworm’s own eggs, through the act of bringing his hand to his mouth without having cleaned it properly, or through coprophagy by children and people with mental illness.

Internal self-infection

This type of autoinfection can occur during vomiting or similar retroperistaltic movements, taking pregnant proglottids (the tapeworm “rings”) or worm eggs to the stomach. After all the action, these cysticerci return to the small intestine, thus initiating the host’s self-infecting process.

Heteroinfection

Through this type of infection, another individual can contaminate the water or food with the tapeworm eggs and, later, the man can ingest these items and become contaminated.

How can I prevent the ingestion of Taenia solium eggs ?

The first step to be taken is to have good hygiene habits, both personal and when preparing meals. For this, we have separated some tips for you, that, by following them, the chance of contamination is very small:

  • Do not eat raw or undercooked pork, as it may be contaminated with the worm’s eggs;
  • Consume only filtered or boiled water;
  • Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after going to the bathroom and before meals;
  • Wash the food you are going to consume well, always with clean water;
  • Do not fertilize vegetable gardens with human feces.

What are the symptoms of Cysticercosis?

The incubation period for cysticerci ranges from 15 days to years, so the disease can often be asymptomatic. However, when symptoms are present, which usually occur when cysticerci are dying, the initial ones are: headaches, convulsions and vomiting.

In addition to these, there are also characteristic symptoms that occur according to the location where the larva is lodged, as described below.

Muscles

  • Local pain;
  • Swelling;
  • Inflammation;
  • Cramps or difficulty in movement.

Heart

  • Palpitations;
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing.

Eyes

  • Depending on the location, cysticercosis can cause visual difficulties, accumulation of abnormal fluid in the retina and even its displacement, and hemorrhage.
  • When the egg settles in the anterior region of the eye, it can cause inflammation and when in the conjunctiva, it can cause conjunctivitis .
  • There is the possibility of the optic nerve being hit by the cysticercus, causing it to atrophy and, subsequently, leading the person to blindness.

Skin

  • Chat, which is usually mistaken for a cyst because it does not cause pain.

Brain

  • Headache;
  • Convulsions;
  • Mental confusion or coma.

How is the diagnosis of Cysticercosis?

In cases of diseases caused by worms, such as cysticercosis, the specialist to whom you should go is the infectologist, who will make the appropriate diagnosis for you, divided into two parts.

Clinical diagnosis

First, the doctor will ask you some questions, to identify the probable symptoms that already compromise your health, since the clinical manifestations of cysticerci depend a lot on where they are housed, the number of larvae that infected you, the stage of development in meet, etc.

Laboratory diagnosis

After the clinical diagnosis, some laboratory tests can be ordered, such as x-rays , analysis of collected anal material and specific serological studies in serum and cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that circulates in the person’s intracranial space), which confirms once and for all if you cysticercosis or not.

And the treatment? As it happens?

After diagnosis, it is time for treatment, which includes the following medications prescribed by the doctor:

  • Prolonged treatment with praziquantel and / or albendazole ;
  • Maintenance therapy with corticosteroids and / or albendazole;
  • Single dose application (2g solution) of niclosamide , dichlorophene and mebendazole .

In some cases of neurocysticercosis, treatment can cause encephalitis , inflammatory edema in the brain. But we repeat: in only a few cases only.

Attention! 

NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.


The treatment of cysticercosis is necessary and, more than that, prevention against the disease is mandatory in the regions that are most affected by it. If you live or know someone who lives in rural areas, be careful twice. The disease will only be extinguished when everyone cooperates.

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