Cysticercosis

Definition
Cysticercosis is an infection that creates cysts in different areas in the body. The infection is caused by a parasite called Taenia solium (the pork tapeworm). If these worms are found in the intestine, they cause a different disease that is called teniasis.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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.

This organism can cause seizures, eye infections, spine infections, and other complications but most often, the worms remain in muscle and do not cause symptoms.

Risk factors include eating pork, fruits, and vegetables contaminated with T. solium as a result of unhealthy cooking preparation. The disease can also be spread by contact with infected people or fecal matter. The disease is rare in the US, but common in many developing countries.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on where the infection is found.

     
  • Brain lesions can result in seizures or symptoms similar to a brain tumor.  
  • Eye lesions can cause decreased vision or blindness.  
  • Heart lesions can lead to abnormal rhythms or heart failure (rare).  
  • Spine lesions can lead to changes in walking or weakness.

Signs and tests

     
  • Antibody test (may be positive)  
  • Tests to identify lesions:       o X-rays       o CT scans       o MRI  
  • Biopsy of the affective area (may show lesions)

Treatment

The doctor may treat the infection with an antiparasitic medication, often in conjunction with steroid medication to reduce swelling. If the cyst is in certain locations, such as the eye or the brain, steroids may be started a few days before the antibiotic to avoid problems caused by swelling during antiparasitic treatment.

Sometimes surgery may be needed to remove the infected area.

Expectations (prognosis)
The prognosis is generally good, unless the lesion has caused blindness, heart failure, or brain damage. These are rare complications.

Complications

     
  • Blindness, decreased vision  
  • Heart failure or abnormal rhythm  
  • Seizures, increased pressure in the brain

Calling your health care provider
If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider to discuss whether you may have cysticercosis.

Prevention
Avoid unclean foods, avoid uncooked foods while traveling, and always wash fruits and vegetables well.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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