Recent Tapeworm News May Be Suspect

WFTS in Tampa, Florida.
( WFTS Television )

Pork Business ran an article last week about a pork tapeworm found in a Florida man’s eye. According to a Tampa, Fla., television station, an individual reportedly had a tapeworm living in the vitreous chamber of his eye – the fluid behind the eye lens, between the cornea. The article attracted a lot of attention, but the facts of the story were incomplete.

Cysticercosis is a human infection caused by a tapeworm cyst, says the National Pork Board (NPB). It says the infection “is found most often in rural, developing countries with poor hygiene where humans live in close contact with pigs and pigs are allowed to consume human feces.”

The man who reportedly had the infection told the news station he believed he contracted the worm after eating undercooked pork during the holidays. It is not indicated whether he was in another country at the time or was in the U.S., but several factors might lead one to believe the infection was not contracted in this country.

Very Few Cases
According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, cysticercosis is extremely uncommon in the U.S. In fact, it accounted for only 10 U.S. market pig carcass condemnations over a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006.

“Every carcass in federally inspected packing plants in the U. S. is inspected for cysticerci and condemned if they are found,” says NPB. The fact that this particular doctor notes that he has treated two cases is highly unlikely, based on the probability.

The eye doctor in the article also stated that the worm “gravitates toward the brain,” but the NPB explains that is not exactly the case. The Pork Board provides this more factual information:

  • Humans and pigs are hosts to the parasite. Both are needed to complete its cycle.
  • Cysticercosis infections occur when the tapeworm larvae or cysticerci (cysts) enter the human body from consuming the raw or undercooked meat of infected animals.  
  • In the human body, cysticerci develop into taenia (tapeworms). Taenias produce proglottids (tapeworm segments capable of reproducing) containing eggs that are eliminated through the stool. 
  • Pigs that consume human feces or vegetation infected with human feces can become infected and produce cysticerci, which lodge in the pork muscle, completing the cycle.
  • Neuerocysticercosis, a tapeworm infection of the brain, is caused when eggs eliminated in human stool are consumed by humans, resulting in an aberrant migration of the tapeworm.
  • It is not caused by consumption of pork.

Prevention Protocols
The NPB says the way to prevent cysticercosis and other disease-causing germs is to avoid eating raw or undercooked pork and other meats, and avoid the meat of pigs that are likely to be infected with the tapeworm.

Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet and before handling food. Also, wash and peel all raw vegetables and fruits before eating. Avoid food that may be contaminated with feces.

The NPB says more information on cysticercosis can be found online at