Diphyllobothrium latum

Preventing a tapeworm infection

The best ways to prevent tapeworm infections are to prepare food properly and look after your personal hygiene, particularly around animals.

Human and animal waste

In the UK, human and animal waste (faeces) must be treated to prevent or remove health hazards such as tapeworms.

Regulations also govern how human and animal waste is disposed of, for example to prevent it polluting rivers and the sea, as well as freshwater lakes where fish are farmed.

These measures protect human health and help prevent animals, such as cows and sheep, coming into contact with tapeworm eggs, breaking the tapeworm's lifecycle.

It may be necessary to take special care after flooding, for example if human waste has contaminated land where animals graze or feed.

Cooking and freezing meat and fish

In the UK, meat goes through a strict inspection system before it can be sold. It must be examined by trained inspectors and approved as fit for people to eat (fit for human consumption). However, you still need to cook meat thoroughly before you eat it.

You can prevent tapeworm infection by cooking pork, beef or fish thoroughly and making sure it is cooked all the way through. This will kill any tapeworm eggs or larvae that may be present. It is also sensible to do this when cooking other meats, such as lamb, venison or hare.

Never allow raw meat or fish to come into contact with cooked meat or fish. A plate that has held raw meat or fish should be washed well before it is used for any other food, including cooked meat.

Avoid eating raw or undercooked pork or beef and raw freshwater fish such as salmon.

Freezing meat and fish at temperatures below -10C (14F) for at least 48 hours also kills tapeworm eggs and larvae. However, you should still cook meat and fish thoroughly before you eat it, even if it has been frozen.

In some cases, pickling may also kill tapeworm eggs and larvae, such as pickling fish in brine (salt water). However, the safest way to be sure is to cook the fish. Smoking or drying meat or fish are not considered reliable ways of killing tapeworm eggs or larvae.

Wash raw vegetables and fruit before you eat them, and clean your work surfaces and kitchen equipment thoroughly.

Read more information about how to prepare food safely.

Personal hygiene

There are some other simple but important steps you can take to make sure your food is safe to eat. These steps can help prevent hazards to your health, such as tapeworms and food poisoning. For example, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water:

  • before and after preparing or handling any food, including raw meat or fish
  • before eating
  • after using the toilet

It is also sensible to wash your hands with soap and water after close contact with farm animals or pets.

Handling food at work

If your job involves handling food, such as meat and fish, it is also important to practice good personal hygiene at work. This helps protect other people's health, as well as your own.

In the UK, food hygiene laws aim to protect public health. These laws cover all businesses that deal with food, including caterers, farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Most food businesses need to register their premises with their local authority's environmental health service. Some food businesses, such as those that produce meat or milk and dairy products, need their premises approved by their local authority.

Employers running food businesses are also responsible for ensuring that staff who handle food are trained and supervised, to enable them to handle food safely.

Contact with animals

Avoid contact with animals if you know they are infected and keep children away from infected animals.

If you have contact with animals, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.

If your dog has a tapeworm infection, make sure it is treated promptly. Follow your vet's advice about treating your dog regularly with de-worming medication and take special care with your own personal hygiene.

It is particularly important that working sheepdogs are regularly de-wormed, because sheep are a host for the dog tapeworm.

It is also wise to avoid feeding dogs with raw meat, including meat from sheep and offal.

Travel in developing countries

Most tapeworms are more commonly found in developing countries. This is because tapeworms can be spread when:

  • sewage (liquid waste containing human or animal faeces) is untreated or not disposed of properly
  • drinking water is contaminated with human or animal waste, and not clean or treated

If you are travelling in areas where this is the case, take special care with your personal hygiene. Also be careful about what you eat and drink. For example, make sure that:

  • you cook meat and fish properly before you eat it
  • your drinking water is clean
  • you use clean (safe) water to wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them

Read more information about travel health.

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