Diphyllobothrium latum

Tapeworms are parasites that can live in a person's intestine (bowel). They don't always cause symptoms and when they do they are often mistaken for another illness.

Tapeworm infections are most commonly seen in developing countries and are rare in the UK.

Tapeworms are known medically as cestodes. They are usually flat and ribbon-like and made up of segments.

Some adult worms grow to 4.5-9m (15-30 feet) in length.

Humans can catch them by:

  • touching contaminated faeces (stools) and then placing their hands near their mouth
  • swallowing food or water containing traces of contaminated faeces
  • eating raw contaminated pork, beef or fish

Read more about the causes of a tapeworm infection.

How do I know if I have a tapeworm?

You may not know you have a tapeworm infection until you see segments of the worm in your stools (poo). The segments will look like white grains of rice but sometimes longer sections of the worm may need to be seen by an expert to confirm diagnosis.

A tapeworm infection does not always cause symptoms. Or if there are symptoms – typically stomach pain and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea – they are often mistaken for another illness.

Read more information about the symptoms of a tapeworm infection.

See your GP if you see what you think are segments of a tapeworm in your stools. Infection is usually diagnosed from a stool sample but further tests may be needed depending on the type of tapeworm infection.

Read more about how tapeworm infections are diagnosed.

Treating tapeworm infections

If you're diagnosed with a tapeworm infection you'll need treatment to get rid of it.

The beef tapeworm lives only in your intestine and is easily treated with tablets.

But other tapeworms can lead to serious complications and those that develop as larvae in your body are more difficult to treat.

Read more information about treating tapeworm infections and complications of a tapeworm infection.

Avoiding tapeworm infections

It is important to prepare food properly to avoid a tapeworm infection. Raw meat and fish in particular must be cooked and stored correctly. Vegetables and fruit should be washed thoroughly before they are eaten.

Your personal hygiene is even more important if you are in close contact with animals, or travelling in a country where tapeworm infections are more common.

Read more information about preventing tapeworm infections.

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