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What Is Sparganosis?

By Andy Josiah
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Sparganosis is an infection of a parasitic nature caused by a sparganum. This is a tapeworm in its juvenile, larval stage of development, particularly the plerocercoid larval stage. The tapeworm involved with this condition comes from the genus Spirometra, which is of the Diphyllobothriidae family. The condition is sometimes referred to as spirometrosis or sparganum infection. Another term for the condition, larval diphyllobothriasis, is outdated and no longer in use.

In 1882, Scottish physician Sir Patrick Manson was the first person to describe sparganosis. A tapeworm that causes the condition, Spirometra masoni, is named after him. A second tapeworm, which was discovered in 1935, Spirometra mansonoides, was also named in his honor. There is a third species, Spirometra proliferum, which can reproduce and multiply in the body, although this particular strain is exceedingly rare.

The most common way to contract sparganosis is through drinking contaminated water. The condition can also be caught by eating the flesh of an infected animal, usually a frog or snake. Other hosts of sparganum include mammals such as cats and dogs.

Sparganosis manifests as a skin sore or nodule, the result of the tapeworm going beneath the skin to subcutaneous tissue. The infected tissue then becomes fibrous, and inflammation typically occurs. In some cases, the sparganum may migrate to other areas of the body. For instance, the larva can travel to be brain, which leads to cerebral sparganosis. When it travels to the eyes, the condition is known as ocular sparganosis.

East and Southeast Asia are particularly afflicted with sparganosis. Countries where it occurs frequently include China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. Ocular sparganosis is particularly severe in Vietnam and China. The condition is also common in the eastern region of Africa. It is much rarer in European countries and the United States. Cases of the disease, however, have been reported in every continent of the world.

Physicians typically diagnose sparganosis when they remove spargana from the patient’s tissue. A computer tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can reveal cerebral cases. The best treatment for the condition is surgical removal of the worms.

Some physicians may prescribe praziquantel, which goes by the brand name Biltricide; and mebendazole, which counts Vermox among its brand names. Praziquantel is an anti-helmintic, which means that it expels flatworms. Mebendazole is a benzimidazole drug that has been used for various parasitic worms. These medications, however, have only limited success. Left untreated, sparganosis is capable of causing death, especially when it comes to the Spirometra proliferum species.

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