The Platyhelminths (Flatworms)


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Phylum Platyhelminthes is divided into four classes. (a) Class Turbellaria includes the Bedford’s flatworm (Pseudobiceros bedfordi), which is about 8–10 cm long. (b) The parasitic class Monogenea includes Dactylogyrus spp. Worms in this genus are commonly called gill flukes. The specimen pictured here is about 0.2 mm long and has two anchors, indicated by arrows, that it uses to latch onto the gills of host fish. (c) The Trematoda class includes the common liver fluke Fasciola hepatica and the giant liver fluke Fascioloides magna (right). The F. magna specimen shown here is about 7 cm long. (d) Class Cestoda includes tapeworms such as Taenia saginata, which infects both cattle and humans and can reach lengths of 4–10 meters; the specimen shown here is about 4 meters long. (credit c: modification of work by “Flukeman”/Wikimedia Commons)

OpenStax Microbiology

Phylum Platyhelminthes (the platyhelminths) are flatworms. This group includes the flukes, tapeworms, and the turbellarians, which include planarians. The flukes and tapeworms are medically important parasites.

The flukes (trematodes) are nonsegmented flatworms that have an oral sucker (and sometimes a second ventral sucker) and attach to the inner walls of intestines, lungs, large blood vessels, or the liver. Trematodes have complex life cycles, often with multiple hosts. Several important examples are the liver flukes (Clonorchis and Opisthorchis), the intestinal fluke (Fasciolopsis buski), and the oriental lung fluke (Paragonimus westermani). Schistosomiasis is a serious parasitic disease, considered second in the scale of its impact on human populations only to malaria. The parasites Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium, and S. japonicum, which are found in freshwater snails, are responsible for schistosomiasis. Immature forms burrow through the skin into the blood. They migrate to the lungs, then to the liver and, later, other organs. Symptoms include anemia, malnutrition, fever, abdominal pain, fluid buildup, and sometimes death.

(a) The oral sucker is visible on the anterior end of this liver fluke, Opisthorchis viverrini. (b) This micrograph shows the scolex of the cestode Taenia solium, also known as the pork tapeworm. The visible suckers and hooks allow the worm to attach itself to the inner wall of the intestine. (credit a: modification of work by Sripa B, Kaewkes S, Sithithaworn P, Mairiang E, Laha T, and Smout M; credit b: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The other medically important group of platyhelminths are commonly known as tapeworms (cestodes) and are segmented flatworms that may have suckers or hooks at the scolex (head region). Tapeworms use these suckers or hooks to attach to the wall of the small intestine. The body of the worm is made up of segments called proglottids that contain reproductive structures; these detach when the gametes are fertilized, releasing gravid proglottids with eggs. Tapeworms often have an intermediate host that consumes the eggs, which then hatch into a larval form called an oncosphere. The oncosphere migrates to a particular tissue or organ in the intermediate host, where it forms cysticerci. After being eaten by the definitive host, the cysticerci develop into adult tapeworms in the host’s digestive system. Taenia saginata (the beef tapeworm) and T. solium (the pork tapeworm) enter humans through ingestion of undercooked, contaminated meat. The adult worms develop and reside in the intestine, but the larval stage may migrate and be found in other body locations such as skeletal and smooth muscle. The beef tapeworm is relatively benign, although it can cause digestive problems and, occasionally, allergic reactions. The pork tapeworm can cause more serious problems when the larvae leave the intestine and colonize other tissues, including those of the central nervous system. Diphylobothrium latum is the largest human tapeworm and can be ingested in undercooked fish. It can grow to a length of 15 meters. Echinococcus granulosus, the dog tapeworm, can parasitize humans and uses dogs as an important host.

The life cycle of Schistosoma spp. includes several species of water snails, which serve as secondary hosts. The parasite is transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated water and takes up residence in the veins of the digestive system. Eggs escape the host in the urine or feces and infect a snail to complete the life cycle. (credit “illustration”: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; credit “step 3 photo”: modification of work by Fred A. Lewis, Yung-san Liang, Nithya Raghavan & Matty Knight)
Life cycle of a tapeworm. (credit “illustration”: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; credit “step 3 micrographs”: modification of work by American Society for Microbiology)

Source:

Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology