Researchers Develop More Accurate Tapeworm Test Kit for Pigs

UGANDA - Scientists in Uganda have developed a kit that tests for the presence of tapeworm (Taenia solium) in pigs.
calendar icon 19 August 2013
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The kit adds a new tool to the arsenal against the parasite, which also attacks human and causes neurological disorders like epilepsy.

Clet Masiga, a scientist involved in the project at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (Asareca) told The EastAfrican that traditional methods, which rely on touching of the tissue structures of cysts under the tongue of a live pig, have low sensitivity and are not accurate.

Mr Masiga said whereas standard laboratory-based serologic tests provide good sensitivity and specificity for detecting tapeworms in pigs, they are not suitable for use in the field because of the time it takes to get the results.

Mr Masiga said the kit, whose trials are being carried out in tandem with the new TSOL18 vaccine developed in Australia against the parasite in Uganda, Tanzania and DR Congo, is expected to be released to farmers next year upon government approval.

The commercialisation of the kit is expected to boost the fight against tapeworm, which has led to a surge in the number of epilepsy cases in the country.

Justine Engole, a development manager at the Epilepsy Support Association Uganda, said that seven in every 100 people in the country are suffering from epilepsy due to eating half-cooked meat.

"In addition to pork tapeworm, poorly treated malaria, trauma and birth defects have been the other causes of epilepsy," said Ms Engole.

Human beings are infected by the pork tapeworm by eating undercooked pork meat that contains larvae, which later migrate out of the intestines and form cysts in other tissues including the brain, where they cause epilepsy.

Scientist say that most people who have a tapeworm experience tiredness, abdominal pain, weight loss and diarrhoea. The parasite can be treated by taking antibiotic drugs.

Mr Masiga said the incidence of epilepsy has increased in sub-Saharan Africa as pig-keeping and pork consumption have become more widespread in the past decade.

According to Uganda’s national livestock census report 2008, the country’s pig population was estimated to be at 3.2 million and the figure has increased.

The country’s central region was estimated to have had the highest number of pigs estimated at 1.3 million (41.1 per cent ), while the Karamoja sub-region had the least number of pigs at 0.06 million (18.3 per cent).

The test kit was developed by Asareca through its agro biodiversity and biotechnology programme together with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), University of Edinburgh (UK), and Astel Diagnostics (Uganda).

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