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What Is a Beef Tapeworm?

Beef tapeworm settle in the small intestine.
A beef tapeworm infection can cause appendicitis.
A beef tapeworm infection can come from eating raw beef.
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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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Beef tapeworm, known scientifically as Taenia saginata, is a type of parasite commonly found in beef. Specifically, it is a flat worm that enters the human body and settles inside of the small intestine whenever infected, raw or undercooked beef is eaten. Once inside of the body, the beef tapeworm feeds off of the nutrients of its host and can survive undetected for a number of years.

When inside of a cow, the beef tapeworm views its home as a temporary host and can deposit larvae into the animal’s muscles. These larvae travel throughout the animal’s body and form cysts in the cow’s muscles, which produce a condition known as beef measles. During its lifespan, the Taenia saginata can average up to 40 feet (12 m) in length, with some growing even larger. Inside of the intestine a beef tapeworm also lays new eggs and, if not detected, new populations grow and can live inside of a human host for as many as 25 years.

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As more parasites begin to crowd the small intestine, they begin to travel to other parts of the body. Beef tapeworm populations can invade the appendix and cause painful appendicitis and can even crawl into the extremities. When this happens, infected individuals commonly report the feeling of something crawling inside one of their limbs. As these parasites continue to proliferate, their presence can disrupt proper organ functioning and cause a host of other problems. Normally, their presence is detected in the stool of a person hosting one or more Taenia saginata, or upon examination for related symptoms.

The physical symptoms of Taenia saginata infection are rarely noticed, which is why these parasites live for so long inside of a host. When symptoms are noted, however, most people complain of a full feeling, a loss of appetite, unintended weight loss, nausea or may notice tiny eggs in feces. Occasionally, individuals may experience a crawling sensation around the sphincter muscles. Once detected, ridding the body of Taenia saginata involves medications that are all known to kill the beef tapeworm within just a few days.

Beef tapeworm infections are the most common tapeworm or cestoda infections throughout the world. They are most common, however, in areas where poor sanitation systems exist and where human feces is used for fertilizing crops, which give cows greater access to human feces containing beef tapeworm eggs. Cases of infection are also more highly noted in areas where beef is known to be eaten raw or undercooked, such as in Argentina and Ethiopia. Other animals, such as sheep and buffalo, may also be infected. Also, in areas when meat is not thoroughly inspected and cysts filled with larvae are undetected, people are more prone to foodborne illnesses and other parasite diseases.

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