6 Myths About Tapeworms
Posted October 23, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read
Like all parasites that can live inside people, tapeworms probably fill you with disgust. But they’re also fascinating. Specially adapted and uniquely armored, they inhabit a menagerie of animals, including us. Here are some facts about our ancient companions.
Myth : Tapeworms are more than just worms.
People love to call pretty much any long, skinny animal a worm.
There’s a legless lizard, for example, that we’ve named the slow worm.
Inchworms are really moth caterpillars—they’ve even got legs.
And tapeworms get their name because they’re long, thin, and flat like tape.
But if you take a closer look at a tapeworm, you’ll find that they’re unique parasitic specialists, only distantly related to the familiar earthworms in your garden.
Myth : If you got a tapeworm, you probably wouldn’t feel sick.
People usually get these parasites by eating raw or undercooked meat, such as beef, pork, or fish.
Sometimes people with tapeworm infections will feel weak or nauseated, and they may experience anemia or a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
But most of the time, an infected human won’t feel any different.
Often, the only sign is those yucky but harmless tapeworm segments in poop.
Myth : But some infections can cause problems.
Here’s where it gets (really) gross.
Improper sanitation may lead someone to consume tapeworm eggs that came out of another person.
The larval tapeworms then hatch and start roaming the body, looking for a safe place to hide out.
They can latch onto muscle tissue, brain tissue (where they cause seizures), and other body parts, causing an infection called Cysticercosis.
It’s relatively rare in the United States, though the CDC has labeled it one of five neglected parasitic infections—ailments that need more attention.
Myth : They wear their stomach on the outside.
Tapeworms don’t have a gut of their own.
Instead, they use their specialized outer surface to absorb nutrients and excrete waste.
And they do it pretty efficiently.
Your small intestine has finger-like bumps called villi that basically add more intestinal surface, creating extra space for absorbing food.
Tapeworms are also covered in little villus-like bumps that help them soak up more of whatever their host is eating.
Myth : MUCH OF THEIR BODY IS FOR MAKING BABY TAPEWORMS.
Beyond the head and a sort of neck, a tapeworm is just a series of segments, each with its own male and female sexual parts.
As the tapeworm adds newer segments near the head, older segments move down the body.
Eventually, they mature and make eggs.
The parasite’s host then poops out either eggs or egg-filled segments and that’s when things get interesting.
Myth : Tapeworms can be huge.
Larger animals have larger intestines—and bigger tapeworms.
Whales get tapeworms, and these onboard companions can grow to 100 feet or more.
That’s over twice the length of the longest giant squid ever discovered.