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Tapeworm In Babies – Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

4 min read

If you are a parent living in India or any of the other developing countries, you need to be very careful about the sanitary hygiene and the conditions in which your baby’s food is prepared. This is because, unlike the developed countries, good sanitation is still a problem in countries like India, and this leads to many infections, especially in children whose immune system is still a work-in-progress.
Tapeworm infection is one such thing you need to keep an eye on. While it is not uncommon in India, and it does cause quite a bit of discomfort in kids, the good news is that once diagnosed, the condition can be treated quite easily. But before we get into that, let us take a step back and understand a few basics.
Doctor checking infection

  • What Is A Tapeworm?
  • How Did My Child Get Affected By A Tapeworm?
  • What Are The Symptoms Of A Tapeworm Infection?
  • How Is A Tapeworm Infection Diagnosed?
  • How Is A Tapeworm Infection Treated?
  • How Can Tapeworm Infection Be Prevented In Babies?

What Is A Tapeworm?

Tapeworm is a parasite that lives in the intestines of animals and humans. It is a flatworm, resembling a tape in appearance and hence the name. And as the term “parasite” suggests, it lives off the host, meaning if there is a tapeworm in your child’s intestine, it absorbs the nutrients present in the food your child eats.
Tapeworm usually attach its head to the intestine and grow in length (they are made of segments, each segment will increase their length by few millimeters) absorbing nutrients from the digested food. If left undetected, they are known to live 25+ years inside the host’s body and grow up to 25 meters in length!! They even shed older segments as they grow in length, which is then passed as part of the infected kid’s poop. While that might sound gross, it is the presence of the segments in the poop that helps diagnose the infection.

How Did My Child Get Affected By A Tapeworm?

It is almost always from food, and sometimes through improper sanitary hygiene.

  1. Your child can get tapeworms if he/she eats the meat of an infected fish/beef/pork that has not been cooked properly. Under-cooked meat can contain live tapeworms or eggs
  2. Your child can get infected from someone else who has got tapeworms if the infected person does not wash hands properly after going to the toilet. His hands may contain eggs that can spread with touch. It can also spread by touching commonly used objects like doorknobs
  3. Your child can get tapeworms if he/she eats something that has come in contact with the infected feces (of a human or animal that was infected). This is where proper sanitation plays a role. A robust sewer system would ensure that infected feces stay out of our food and drink – however, India still has a long way to go before this is accomplished

What Are The Symptoms Of A Tapeworm Infection?

The most unfortunate thing about this infection is that it can go undetected for years. This explains why we have cases where the worm has grown 25 meters. That said, some of the symptoms you might notice in your child are:

  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Tummy ache
  • Sleeplessness

There are more serious symptoms, as well. If the pork tapeworm causes the infection, then it might enter the child’s bloodstream, leading to the formation of cysts in different parts of the body (including heart and brain!). The symptoms can be severe in these cases, too – irregular heartbeat, and seizures being two of them. This condition is called cysticercosis. Further, a fish tapeworm causes another kind of tapeworm infection. This can lead to severe vitamin B12 deficiency in your child, leading to breathlessness and lethargy.
While all these symptoms need not always point towards a tapeworm infection, there is one sure-shot way to say if your child is infected or not. If there is indeed a tapeworm inside your child’s intestine, you will notice segments it shed in your child’s poop. The problem here is how many of us notice the poop before flushing it down.
Parasite infection diagnosis

How Is A Tapeworm Infection Diagnosed?

If you suspect an infection, your doctor will most likely ask you to bring multiple samples of your child’s feces for testing. Multiple samples are checked as sometimes worms do not show up in one stool.
They might also order a blood test to see if the body has developed any antibodies to fight the infection.
Further, a CT Scan, X-Ray, and MRI are also sometimes done to image the internal organs to detect the presence of tapeworms or cysts caused by it.

How Is A Tapeworm Infection Treated?

As we mentioned earlier, once detected and diagnosed, tapeworm infection can easily be treated with anti-parasitic drugs.
If the child has more serious cysticercosis, then the doctor might also prescribe anti-inflammatory and anti-epilepsy medications.

How Can Tapeworm Infection Be Prevented In Babies?

As always, prevention is far better than worrying about a 25-meter long tapeworm in your child’s tummy! Here are some steps to follow to protect your child from tapeworm infection:

  • Change your baby’s nappies frequently
  • Cook fish and meet thoroughly. Properly cooked fish will flake when touched with a fork. Properly cooked meat will not have pink centers
  • Encourage your child to wash hands before every meal and after using the bathroom, every time. Teach them how to wash thoroughly with warm water and soap
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables brought from the local market in clean water
  • Drink only boiled water

Woman washing vegetables
Though generally not very harmful, it is a wise idea to take your baby to a doctor if you notice any of the symptoms. You may also look for deworming treatments and get one done once your child is about two years of age. Stay healthy, stay safe.

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