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Tapeworm Infestation Workup

  • Author: Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MPH, FACEP; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
Updated: Jul 28, 2015

Laboratory Studies

Perianal and stool examinations can be performed. If worm infestation is suspected, first consider a stool examination for ova and parasites. This clearly is indicated for some of the cestodes that release eggs or worm segments directly into the stool (ie, T saginata, Diphyllobothrium species, D caninum). This is especially true of H nana infection, which is the most frequently diagnosed cestode infection in the United States.

Collecting 2-3 stool samples is necessary for detection of the parasite because eggs and parasite particles are released irregularly into the stool and may be periodically absent from stool during infection. Therefore, microscopy has been known to be relatively insensitive.

In T saginata infections, eggs may be observed in the perianal area and can be detected by using a cellophane tape swab. This method detects eggs in 85-90% of patients.

Eosinophil counts are not diagnostically reliable. Eosinophilia is sporadically present and does not correlate with the severity of the infection. Eosinophil counts also do not help in monitoring treatment modalities.


Imaging Studies


Imaging studies are not only useful in differential diagnosis and evaluation of neurocysticercosis, but they are important in identifying the number, the location, and the stage of the infestation.

The size of cysticerci varies according to location in the CNS. If located in the brain parenchyma, cysts are rarely larger than 10 mm in diameter because of physical space limitations. In contrast, cysts located in the cisterns of the cerebrospinal fluid may grow to 5 cm or greater in diameter.

Appearance of the cysticerci depends on the stage of development. On entering the CNS, the cysticerci are in a vesicular stage where the parasites are viable and surrounding tissue inflammatory changes are scant. After a variable time (maybe years), the host attacks immunologically and the process of degeneration occurs; this process changes the appearance of the cysticerci until ultimately complete degeneration leaves a nodular calcified cyst.

Generally, MRI is better than CT for the diagnosis of neurocysticercosis, detecting up to 60% of cases missed on CT. However, MRI is less sensitive than CT in identifying small calcifications, and many patients have parenchymal calcifications as the sole evidence of the disease (up to 40% of symptomatic patients). This along with cost-effectiveness lends to CT as the image study of choice and MRI for more inconclusive findings. Also see Cysticercosis and Cysticercosis, CNS.

Ultrasonography may be useful in evaluation of patients with orbital infestations.


As with most space-occupying lesions, imaging techniques are very useful. CT, MRI, and/or ultrasonography can assist in determining the extent and stage of the infestation and in evaluating the surrounding structures. CT is better in detecting calcified lesions, and MRI is better for visualizing necrotic or fibrotic noncalcified lesions and extrahepatic lesions of alveolar echinococcosis. Calcification occurs commonly in hepatic cysts but rarely in pulmonary cysts.

Ultrasonographic appearance of echinococcal cysts Ultrasonographic appearance of echinococcal cysts (Gharbi type I, World Health Organization [WHO] standardized classification CE1).

Radiographically, guided needle aspiration of a cyst is occasionally indicated for proper identification of cyst etiology without a need for concern of dissemination.


Other Tests

Immunologic testing

Although this type of testing may be useful for primary screening, it is most commonly used for confirmation testing for parasitic disease.

Complement fixation, hemagglutination, radioimmunoassay, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), and immunoblot can be used for the detection of anticysticercal antibodies in serum, cerebrospinal fluid, and saliva.

The immunoblot (Western blot = enzyme-linked immunoelectrotransfer blot assay) is the most effective, with sensitivity and specificity as high as 100% and 98%, respectively; however, the sensitivity decreases to about 70% in patients with a single cyst or in those with only calcified lesions. ELISA is more reliable when performed in cerebrospinal fluid than in serum, but the accuracy depends on the viability and location of the cysticerci. Stool antigen testing detects at least 2-3 times more cases of Taenia infection than stool microscopy. In echinococcosis, ELISA is positive in only 50% of patients with pulmonary hydatidosis and in more than 90% of patients with hepatic cysts.

Polymerase chain reaction

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of stool tests are also available for the detection of Echinococcus infection.[6]



Although invasive, the subcutaneous edema of sparganosis and the space-occupying lesions of coenurosis and echinococcosis require surgery for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MPH, FACEP Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center

Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MPH, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Medical Toxicology, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Kim A Guishard, MD Vice Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine, Wycroft Heights Medical Center

Kim A Guishard, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ Associate Professor, Senior Researcher, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine; Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Canada

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, University of South Carolina School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Clinical Instructor, Compliance Officer, Department of Emergency Medicine, Palmetto Richland Hospital

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, South Carolina Medical Association, Columbia Medical Society, South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Chief Editor for Medscape.

Additional Contributors

Richard S Krause, MD Senior Clinical Faculty/Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Buffalo State University of New York School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Richard S Krause, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous author, Raquel Mora, MD, to the development and writing of this article.

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Adult tapeworm of Dipylidium caninum. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Ultrasonographic appearance of echinococcal cysts (Gharbi type I, World Health Organization [WHO] standardized classification CE1).
Diagram of the Echinococcus life cycle. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Table 1. Cestodes and Their Hosts
Cestode Primary Host Intermediate Host
T solium Humans Pigs, humans, dogs, cats, sheep
T saginata Humans Cattle
Diphyllobothrium Humans Fish
Hymenolepis Humans Hymenolepis nana: None; Hymenolepis diminuta: Rodents
D caninum Humans, dogs, cats Fleas on dogs/cats
Echinococcus Dogs Humans, sheep, cattle, goats, horses, camel
Spirometra Humans  
T multiceps   Hares, rabbits, squirrels, humans (rarely)
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