Cysticercosis is an infection by a parasite called Taenia solium (T. solium), a pork tapeworm that creates cysts in different areas in the body.
See also: Teniasis
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 unhealthy cooking or 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.
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 may involve:
- Medications to kill the parasites (antiparasitic treatments 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.
The outlook is generally good, unless the lesion has caused blindness, heart failure, or brain damage. These are rare complications.
- Blindness, decreased vision
- Heart failure or abnormal heart rhythm
- Hydrocephalus (fluid build-up in part of the brain, often with increased pressure)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If you have any symptoms of cysticercosis, contact your health care provider.
Avoid unclean foods, don't eat uncooked foods while traveling, and always wash fruits and vegetables well.
White AC Jr., Brunetti E. Cysticercosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 362.
Review Date: 2/4/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.