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Diphyllobothriasis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About diphyllobothriasis

Diphyllobothriasis also called ‘fish tapeworm infection’ is an infection of the digestive system, caused by a parasite, Diphyllobothrium latum. It is commonly known as fish tapeworm and is the largest flat tapeworm. This parasitic, gastro-intestinal infection is usually longstanding and asymptomatic in nature.

Diphyllobothriasis: Incidence, age and sex

Diphyllobothriasis is usually encountered in individuals residing in certain regions of Eastern Europe, Africa, south-east Asia and South America. It seems to be very common in fish eating individuals of Chile, Brazil and Scandinavia. This infection may afflict an individual of any age group, irrespective of the gender.

Signs and symptoms of diphyllobothriasis: Diagnosis

Dipyhllobothriasis usually remains undiagnosed for a long time due to absence of clinical features in most of the individuals. However, indistinct features like mild abdominal pain, loose stools, nausea and vomiting have been observed in some affected individuals. Fever or high temperature is characteristically absent in this parasitic infection. A long-standing fish tapeworm infection may result in loss of appetite and even gradual loss of weight. In severe instances, features like breathlessness, pale skin, exhaustion and light-headedness may show the advent of anaemia.

A detailed history including diet history and comprehensive physical examination may give a clue in the diagnosis of diphyllobothriasis which can be confirmed by standard blood test and microscopic examination of the stool.

Causes and prevention of diphyllobothriasis

Diphyllobothriasis is caused by a large parasite called Diphyllobothrium latum, whose infectious cysts reside in fresh water fish. Ingestion of raw or undercooked contaminated fish leads to diphyllobothriasis. The cysts grow into larva in the human intestine where they progress to adulthood. The adult tapeworm generally gives eggs which are passed out in the stool. These eggs may again be taken in by fish and the vicious cycle continues. Diphyllobothriasis does not spread from person to person.

Certain preventive measures like maintaining adequate sanitation, preserving fish at very low, freezing temperatures and cooking at very high temperatures may help in keeping this infection at bay.

Diphyllobothriasis: Complications

Dipyhhlobothriasis in longstanding cases may cause deficiency of vitamin B12, resulting in megaloblastic anaemia. Moreover, intestinal obstruction which is an emergent condition has also been encountered in occasional individuals.

Diphyllobothriasis: Treatment

Anti-parasitic medications like Niclosamide, Albendazole or Praziquantal are generally prescribed to eliminate the parasite and its eggs. Individuals with megaloblastic anaemia may require additional medications in form of vitamin B12 injections. The prognosis of diphyllobothriasis is quite good and complete recovery is observed in almost all the infected individuals.