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Taenia saginata is a type of parasitic tapeworm carried by cattle. It causes a disease in humans called taeniasis, or tapeworm infection. Doctors treat tapeworm infections with single-dose de-worming medications that kill the parasites.
Beef tapeworms are narrow, flat worms that have segmented bodies and both male and female sexual organs. Each proglottid, or segment of the worm's body, contains an entire reproductive system. Adult worms can grow to a length of 16-33 feet (5-10 m).
Many people who have Taenia saginata infections are not aware that they are carrying a tapeworm because they do not have noticeable symptoms. Some individuals complain of pain around the navel, loss of appetite or an upset stomach. In rare instances, tapeworms can create a medical emergency by causing an intestinal blockage.
The most evident symptom of a tapeworm infection are small white proglottids, or worm segments, in the stool. These segments might move around or squirm. They are often filled with tapeworm eggs.
Cattle and humans both act as hosts to beef tapeworms. Cows are the worm's intermediate host. The tapeworm eggs form larval cysts inside their muscle tissue but do not grow to maturity inside the cow. Humans are the terminal host. Taenia saginata larvae reach adulthood inside the intestines.
Many countries use human waste as fertilizer for their crops. Cows become infected from eating feed that is contaminated by egg-infested human feces. In turn, humans get beef tapeworm infections by eating undercooked meat from infected cattle. Beef tapeworm infections occur around the world, but they are most prevalent in countries where people regularly consume raw beef.
Doctors can diagnose a Taenia saginata infection by examining the patient's stool for the presence of eggs or proglottids. They treat the condition using medications such as praziquantel, niclosamide or albendazole. These treatments usually kill the entire worm, including its head, or scolex. If the scolex survives treatment, it can regenerate and begin releasing eggs within three months of treatment. Washing one's hands and practicing good restroom hygiene helps prevent reinfection.
People can avoid contracting Taenia saginata by eating thoroughly cooked meat. The meat must reach temperatures of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) and remain at that temperature for at least five minutes to kill all of the larval cysts. The cysts usually cannot survive cold temperatures for longer than 10 days at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Freezing the meat for 24 hours at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-20 degrees Celsius) also kills the parasites.