What is a tapeworm?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021
  • Author: Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MBA, MPH, FACEP; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Tapeworms are long, segmented worms of the class Cestoda, which comprise 1 of 3 classes of parasitic worms (worms that require a host within which to mature). The other classes are Nematoda and Trematoda. These worms lack an intestinal tract and instead can absorb nutrients through their integument.

The adult consists of a head (scolex), where the worms attach to the mucosa of the intestine; a neck; and a segmented body that contains both male gonads and female gonads (proglottids).

Adult tapeworm of Dipylidium caninum. Image courte Adult tapeworm of Dipylidium caninum. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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