What is Cysticercosis?
Before we can jump right into Cysticercosis, we need to learn first about Taeniasis
Taeniasis is an intestinal infection that affects humans who swallow the cysts of tapeworm in undercooked pork or beef. After ingestion, the tapeworm cysts develop into adult tapeworms. These adult tapeworms will then excrete eggs through the feaces of the infected human. When such infected human being defecates in the open as is common in some areas in Nigeria, they contaminate the surrounding environment with the tapeworm eggs. Taeniasis causes mild symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea or constipation and may continue until the tapeworm dies following treatment, or it may live for many years.
Now back to Cysticercosis ….
Cysticercosis is an infection caused by the larvae of the tapeworm parasite. A person is infected when he/she swallows the tapeworm eggs through contaminated water or food (mainly vegetables) or putting contaminated fingers in their mouth. Some may re-infect themselves with the eggs (auto-infection) or may infect other family members. As you can guess already, eating pork itself cannot give you cysticercosis, but poor hygiene can give you cysticercosis.
Now, when the person swallows the tapeworm eggs, the eggs develop into larvae and the larvae gets into tissues such as muscle, eyes and brain and then forms cysts there. When infection is established, some people may not develop any symptoms and some may develop nodules on their skin. However, a lot of people have situations when the cysts get to the brain causing a condition called neurocysticercosis. Neurocysticercosis is a very fatal condition that usually leads to epilepsy and other related conditions in the affected person. It is the cause of 30% of epilepsy cases in many areas where people and roaming pigs live in close proximity.
Cysticercosis affects the health and livelihoods of subsistence farming communities in developing countries, reduces the market value of pigs and especially makes pork unsafe to eat.
Where is cysticercosis found?
Cysticercosis (and Taeniasis) is found worldwide but mostly in rural areas of developing countries where pigs are allowed to roam freely and eat human feces and where hygiene practices are poor. It is also common in areas where animal husbandry practices do not prevent pigs and cattle from coming into contact with human faeces. Cysticercosis is rare in people who live in countries where pigs do not have contact with human feces.
Is there treatment for cysticercosis?
Yes. Infections are generally treated in human and pigs with anti-parasitic drugs in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs. See your doctor and veterinary doctor for treatment in humans and animals respectively
Can cysticercosis be spread from person to person?
No. Someone with cysticercosis cannot spread the disease to other people. However, people with taeniasis (tapeworm infection in the intestine) may spread tapeworm eggs to other people if they do not practice good hygiene (like washing hands after toilet use). This may then result in cysticercosis if people swallow the eggs.
How can I prevent cysticercosis and other infections spread through fecal contamination?
- Stop defecating in the open fields or open space
- Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, after changing diapers, and before handling food
- Teach children the importance of washing hands to prevent infection
- Wash all raw vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating
- Deworm yourself regularly (especially if you are in a high-risk area). If you have a pig farm, make sure they are given timely deworming
- Practice good environmental sanitation and in your pig farms
- Make sure you inspect your meat or pork well before buying it.