Scientists discuss pork disease

The third general assembly meeting on cysticercosis, a parasitic disease emerging in eastern and southern Africa, was held recently in Maputo, Mozambique.
The meeting came against the background of increasing consumption of pork in the region yet the pig from which pork is derived suffers the most from cystivercosis, a neurological and sometimes fatal disease transmitted between pigs and people by a zoonotic tapeworm (Taenia solium). .
Both pig keeping and pork consumption have increased significantly in this region over the past decade, especially in rural smallholder communities supplying pork to meet increasing urban demands. Poverty is a main reason for the concommittant increase in the disease.
Inadequate sanitation, meat inspection, disease control and pig management have led to an increase in the incidence of cysticercosis.
Cysticercosis is becoming a serious public health risk not only in rural areas where pigs are raised but also in urban areas where infected pigs are transported and consumed.
Besides damaging people’s health and productivity, cysticercosis hurts smallholder farming communities economically, by constraining their sales of pigs, and nutritionally, through the condemnation of pig carcasses.
This third regional meeting of the Cysticercosis Working Group in Eastern and Southern Africa (CWGESA), in Mozambique (previous meetings were held in Tanzania in 2002 and 2003), was attended by more than 30 people from 13 countries: Burundi, Denmark, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Portugal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as Angola and Rwanda, which were taking part for the first time.
CWGESA aims to improve human health and well-being through increased awareness of cysticercosis and improved surveillance, prevention and control of this human and pig disease. Meeting these objectives will in turn help the countries of eastern and southern Africa improve their pig production, domestic food supply and export opportunities for pork.
Meeting participants updated the status of human and porcine cysticercosis in the 11 endemic eastern and southern African countries represented at the meeting, including current or planned research and control efforts; discussed implementation of the Regional Action Plan for Combating Cysticercosis in Eastern and Southern Africa formulated in Arusha in 2002; finalised the governance structure of CWGESA (including a constitution); and made plans for increasing public awareness of cysticercosis and securing long-term support for CWGESA, including a CWGESA Internet website.
International cysticercosis activities impinging on eastern and southern Africa were discussed. These include a new global initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess the burden and impact of cysticercosis and a conference on "Establishing a Global Campaign for Combating Cysticercosis" held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Conference Centre in Bellagio, Italy, this past September.
Importantly, participants at this third general assembly meeting represented the veterinary, agriculture and health sectors, making this meeting a first step towards the formation of multidisciplinary teams needed to combat this growing disease threat.
The Maputo meeting was organised by CWGESA with support from the Danish Bilharziasis Laboratory, the World Health Organization (WHO)/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Collaborating Centre for Parasitic Zoonoses in Denmark, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), headquartered in Nairobi, and offices of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in South Africa.
Background Information
Taenia solium is a parasite transmitted between humans and pigs. People become infected with the adult tapeworm form of the parasite (taeniosis) by eating infested raw or undercooked pork.
Eggs of the tapeworm pass out with the infected person’s stool and can be ingested by free-roaming pigs if people defecate outdoors. Pigs develop the immature larval form of the parasite (cysticercosis) with hundreds to thousands of small cysts forming in their muscles, heart and brain, rendering the pork unfit for consumption.
People can also become infected with the cystic larval form of the parasite by ingesting T. solium eggs either from direct contact with a human tapeworm carrier or from contaminated food or water (thus one does not need to raise pigs or consume pork to become infected with cysticercosis).
In humans the cysts often develop in the brain causing a condition called neurocysticercosis, which can cause severe headaches, epileptic seizures and sometimes death.
Neurocysticercosis is considered to be a common preventable cause of epilepsy, rendering people incapacitated and unproductive.

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