Feeds

How much damage does a tapeworm do to the human body?

Less than you'd think

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Also in this week's column:

How much damage does a tapeworm do to the human body?

Asked by George Gomez of Concord, California, USA

Tapeworms produce surprisingly few physical problems for the human body in infected individuals. But it is still to be avoided.

In The Odd Body 3 (2007), it is pointed out that the subject of tapeworms is an often-asked Odd Body Question even though tapeworm infestation is less of a problem in modern industrial societies as the quality of our food is higher. Thank the inventor of the refrigerator for much of this.

Tapeworms come into the body via contaminated food. Many organisms live on and in the human body. A tapeworm can easily survive and thrive indefinitely inside us. A tapeworm in a human can range in length from 1/250 of an inch (.0063 cm) to an incredible 50 feet (15.23 meters)!

Tapeworms have no digestive tract so they must eat food already digested by another animal. That is precisely what they do as a parasite inside our intestines. Tapeworms absorb nutrients directly across their skin (cuticle). They also reproduce inside us. There are many species of tapeworms, not all can infest humans.

Tapeworms are simple in design, but ruthless in action. They consist of two organs. The first organ (scolex) anchors the beastie to the wall of the intestine with suckers and hooks. The second organ (proglottid) is really a series of organs that grow out from the scolex with each having full reproductive capability. Proglottids form a chain of varying length. The last segment of the chain eventually breaks off and is passed out with feces.

Tapeworms resist being destroyed by the body's immune system or digestive juices. Tapeworms cause health problems around the world and can even kill since they rob us of nutrients, block our intestines, and take up space in organs that stop them from functioning normally. A tapeworm cyst can settle in the brain, eye, liver, and elsewhere.

Although little is known about the origins of tapeworms in humans, it is well known that some tapeworms live in both animals and humans. Some tapeworms have such a complex life that they are required to live first in an herbivore (such as a cow) and then in a carnivore (such as a human) where it only then can reproduce [Source: Arnold, J. (2001) Scientific sleuths track the origins of tapeworms in humans. ARS U.S. Department of Agriculture, 23 October, p. 1.]

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Rosetta science team thinks Philae might come to life in the spring
And disclose the biggest surprise of Comet 67P
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.