WHO explains that consuming undercooked pork can lead to transmission of tapeworms to a person leading to taeniasis. However if left untreated, a more serious condition develops when larvae of tapeworms invade the central nervous system causing neurocysticercosis or epilepsy.
The UN health agency says that consuming undercooked pork and water contaminated with by tapeworm eggs – constitute “the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy in the developing world.”
“When larvae build up in the central nervous system, muscles, skin and eyes, it leads to neurocysticercosis – the most severe form of the disease and a common cause of seizures worldwide.”
According to the Geneva-based body, 50 million people are affected by epilepsy and more than 80 per cent of them live in the developing world. In Uganda, 156 new cases of epilepsy are recorded for every 100,000 people every year.
WHO has called for greater emphasis to be placed on sensitising the population about the dangers of neurocysticercosis.
“Thorough case finding, better diagnosis and treatment, and public health information campaigns are crucial to effectively control and break the life cycle of the parasite,” WHO said.
“Neurocysticercosis is the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy in the developing world,” WHO said. “It is a common infection of the human nervous system and a growing public health concern.”
Facts about Cysticercosis
Pigs become infected with T. solium when they come into contact with human faecal waste.
Millions of tapeworm eggs are excreted into the environment through the faeces of infected people. When pigs ingest these eggs or eggs from the environment, small cysts develop throughout the animal’s body. Humans are infected by consuming food, such as raw or undercooked pork, or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs, or through poor hygiene practices.
Neurocysticercosis and taeniasis are two different diseases caused by the same parasite
When the parasite T. solium is transmitted to human beings, it causes an intestinal infection of the adult tapeworm known as taeniasis. If left untreated, the tapeworm can survive inside the body for many years, leading to more serious conditions.
Cysticercosis develops when the larvae of T. solium invade body and develop in the muscles, skin and eyes. If larvae invade the central nervous system, the infection leads to neurocysticercosis.
50 million people are affected by epilepsy. More than 80% live in the developing world
Neurocysticercosis is the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy in the developing world. It is a common infection of the human nervous system and a growing public health concern. Symptoms of neurocysticercosis can include chronic headaches, blindness, seizures, meningitis and dementia.
T. solium was recently named the food-borne parasite of “greatest global concern”
WHO together with the Food and Agriculture Organization recently issued the warning to highlight the importance of cross-sector collaboration in tackling the spread of the disease. The combined efforts of sectors such as health, veterinary services and education can largely help to control T. solium infections. Behaviour change efforts can also be integrated with other disease programmes and interventions in settings where such resources are limited.
The disease occurs in countries where families engage in community farming practices and raise free-roaming pigs. It is also common in areas where animals are slaughtered outside approved abattoirs and in the absence of meat inspections. T. solium infection in pigs affects the livelihood of many communities as pigs lose their market value.
Diagnosis of suspected neurocysticercosis currently requires computed tomography scans (CT scans). These facilities are not usually available in rural areas, where the disease is most prevalent, making it difficult to identify and treat patients. It is important to control the parasite by finding and treating people with the condition – and therefore avoid chances of transmission.
Treatment for neurocysticercosis can be long, complicated and costly
Neurocysticercosis creates tremendous economic burden on health systems as treatments need to be tailored according to individual needs. Long courses of praziquantel and/or albendazole, as well as supportive epileptic therapy can improve the quality of life for patients. Fortunately, pigs can now be treated with anti-parasitic medications and vaccinated against T. solium. This prevents the parasite from being transmitted to humans.