Navigate Up

Pediatric Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Z

Print This Page

Cysticercosis

Cysticercosis is an infection by a parasite called Taenia solium (T. solium), a pork tapeworm that creates cysts in different areas in the body.

Causes

Cysticercosis is caused by swallowing eggs from T. solium, which are found in contaminated food. Autoinfection is when a person is already infected with adult T. solium, then swallows eggs following improper hand washing after a bowel movement.

Risk factors include eating pork, fruits, and vegetables contaminated with T. solium as a result of undercooking or improper food preparation. The disease can also be spread by contact with infected feces.

The disease is rare in the United States, but is common in many developing countries.

Symptoms

Most often, the worms stay in muscles and do not cause symptoms.

Symptoms that do occur depend on where the infection is found in the body:

  • Brain -- seizures or symptoms similar to those of a brain tumor
  • Eyes -- decreased vision or blindness
  • Heart -- abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure (rare)
  • Spine -- weakness or changes in walking due to damage to nerves in the spine

Exams and Tests

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood tests to detect antibodies to the parasite
  • Biopsy of the affected area
  • CT scan, MRI scan, or x-rays to detect the lesion
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • Test in which an ophthalmologist looks inside the fundus of the eye

Treatment

Treatment may involve:

  • Medicines to kill the parasites, such as albendazole or praziquantel
  • Powerful anti-inflammatories (steroids) to reduce swelling

If the cyst is in the eye or brain, steroids should be started a few days before other medicines to avoid problems caused by swelling during antiparasitic treatment. Not all patients benefit from antiparasitic treatment.

Sometimes surgery may be needed to remove the infected area.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook good, unless the lesion has caused blindness, heart failure, or brain damage. These are rare complications.

Possible Complications

  • Blindness, decreased vision
  • Heart failure or abnormal heart rhythm
  • Hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in part of the brain, often with increased pressure)
  • Seizures

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you have any symptoms of cysticercosis, contact your health care provider.

Prevention

Avoid unwashed foods, do not eat uncooked foods while traveling, and always wash fruits and vegetables well.

References

White AC Jr., Brunetti E. Cysticercosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 362.

Updated: 2/3/2014

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com